PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger practiced in a limited capacity on Monday, just two weeks after undergoing surgery to repair the meniscus in his left knee.
Whether Roethlisberger is healthy enough to start under center when the Steelers visit their rival Baltimore Ravens on Sunday remains to be seen.
Still, Roethlisberger, who did not speak to reporters after practice, was initially expected to miss 4 to 6 weeks following the surgery, but he could return earlier than expected.
“We always talk about the next man up, but you can’t replace Ben Roethlisberger,” offensive lineman Marcus Gilbert said. “He’s one of the greatest. He’s our leader.”
Teammates confirmed that Roethlisberger practiced some with the first team and scout team on Monday. He also participated in 7-on-7 drills and ran the no-huddle offense during the team’s competition period.
“From what I saw, it was very encouraging,” Gilbert said. “He threw the ball and he moved around in the pocket pretty good. It’s just a matter if he’s game ready and if he’s willing and able to take those hits because (the Ravens) will be coming and he has to do what’s in his best interest so he doesn’t have any setbacks.”
If Roethlisberger can’t go, fourth-year veteran Landry Jones is likely to start. Jones finished 29 of 47 for 281 yards with a touchdown and an interception during a loss against New England.
“Landry did a great job,” wide receiver Markus Wheaton said. “No disrespect to Landry, but Ben’s our guy. It was exciting to see him get out there and sling it a little bit.”
Still, several teammates indicated they would like to see Roethlisberger return on Sunday only if he’s 100 percent healthy.
“We want him back, but at the same time, I don’t want him to be playing through a lot of pain,” running back Le’Veon Bell said. “It depends on how he feels during the course of the week, but I don’t want him to rush back.
“We have a long season ahead and we’re going to need him down the stretch. I’m sure he’ll be smart about it.”
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is expected to provide an update on Tuesday. The team doesn’t have to provide an official injury report until after Wednesday’s practice, but teammates were encouraged to see Roethlisberger practice on Monday.
“As a leader on this team, and a guy coming off surgery like that, to come out and practice is huge,” center Maurkice Pouncey said. “It just shows his willingness to win and how much he cares about this team and the organization.
“I know all the guys around here appreciate that.”
Roethlisberger injured his left knee during a loss against Miami. He underwent surgery the following day and missed a home loss against New England the next Sunday, though he jogged onto the field to greet his defensive teammates and was spotted walking in the locker room without a limp.
Roethlisberger began throwing passes during individual portions of practice two days later, just eight days after surgery.
Now, he could be nearing an early return.
“Ben’s a competitor and he just wants to be out there with his team, so you can never count him out,” Gilbert said. “He loves football, he breathes football, and for him to be out there to push us, it gives us high hopes.”
NOTES: Gilbert (ankle), Wheaton (shoulder) and defensive end Cameron Heyward (hamstring) all practiced on Monday. Gilbert missed the previous three games, while Heyward sat out the past two. Wheaton is dealing with a lingering shoulder issue and missed four of the Steelers’ first seven games, including the past two.