The Pittsburgh Steelers aren't taking any chances with their franchise quarterback's sprained right shoulder and dislocated rib.
Though the Steelers confirmed Ben Roethlisberger will return to the starting lineup on Sunday against San Diego after missing three weeks due to injury, Roethlisberger will take the field with a little extra protection.
Roethlisberger will play with a custom fit rib/chest compression shirt and a layer of Kevlar-lined composite in his shoulder pads to help absorb hits to his clavicle and shoulder joint regions.
The padding, made by Unequal Technologies, has grown popular across the NFL. Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick wore a similar compression shirt after injuring his ribs a few years ago and dozens of players — including Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker James Harrison — use Unequal CRT in their helmets.
The padding — about a half-inch thick— in Roethlisberger's shoulder pads is similar to the gear the company puts in its chest protectors for baseball catchers. Roethlisberger said last week his shoulder pads had been "juiced up" by the team trainers.
Whatever he's wearing, the Steelers (7-5) are eager to have him back on the field. Roethlisberger took "90 per cent" of the first-team snaps on Thursday without any major issues.
"He looks like himself for the most part," offensive co-ordinator Todd Haley said. "Now I don't know what he's feeling when he's doing some of those things. But it looks like he's moving around pretty good."
Roethlisberger said he felt "good" but declined to expand. Haley doesn't expect there to be any limitations to the playbook though he joked he might not call as many designed run plays for his quarterback, who never met a play he didn't like to extend.
"I think he understands his body better than anybody," Haley said. "He's the one that's got to make the decisions and we'll just try to put him in the best positions to succeed."
The Steelers went 1-2 in Roethlisberger's absence, including a 23-20 victory over Baltimore last week behind backup Charlie Batch. While Batch's steady performance against the Ravens kept Pittsburgh's playoff hopes alive, the team hopes to hit its stride with a healthy Roethlisberger under centre.
"When Ben's in it's just a whole different level of game planning and things that teams have to do just to compensate for how athletic he is," wide receiver Mike Wallace said. "I think he brings a dimension to the team that nobody else can bring."