Posted: Friday December 7, 2012 12:23PM ; Updated: Friday December 7, 2012 6:29PM
Will Carroll

Fantasy focus: Steelers hope equipment, line protect Big Ben

Story Highlights

Ben Roethlisberger will return four weeks after hurting his shoulder, ribs

Steelers have outfitted Roethlisberger with a specially-padded custom shirt

Offensive line's ability to protect Roethlisberger is also crucial to QB's health

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Ben Roethlisberger
Ben Roethlisberger will need a good game from his offensive line in Week 14 to prevent a recurrence of his shoulder injury.
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

We know the when, but not the how of Ben Roethlisberger's return to the Steelers' starting lineup for Week 14. Mike Tomlin confirmed on Thursday that Roethlisberger would be back at the controls, just four weeks after spraining his sternoclavicular (SC) joint and fracturing a rib. While many estimates were calling for him to miss six weeks or even the rest of the season, the facts were never going there.

Roethlisberger was cleared to throw after just a week, and at two weeks post-fracture, he was healing well. The rib was stable and had not been displaced, despite many reports that it had "dislocated."

To manage the recurrence risk, the Steelers are trying two things. First, Roethlisberger was fitted with a custom undershirt with a specially cut pad covering the area under his right shoulder. The padding is made of Kevlar, and has been used by the likes of Tony Romo and Michael Vick, as well as having been used in helmets for the Steelers' Ryan Clark and James Harrison.

The shirt cannot accomplish perhaps the Steelers' most important pain management technique -- protecting Roethlisberger from opposing defenders and the cold, hard ground. If Roethlisberger is driven to the turf, he'll be at an elevated risk for injury or re-injury. It's a calculated risk, but with the playoffs still in reach and improved equipment, it's a gamble Pittsburgh will take.
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