LATROBE, Pa. — Ben Roethlisberger got a thumb's up from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, and praise for the way he's reshaping his life. What's missing for now is a reduction of his six-game suspension.
Goodell met with Roethlisberger while visiting the Steelers' training camp on Thursday but, while saying the quarterback is going beyond what the league is mandating, didn't cut his suspension for bad behavior to four games.
The NFL will continue to monitor Roethlisberger's progress before he and Goodell meet in New York later this month and the commissioner makes a final decision how long the Steelers star will be out. A reduction would allow Roethlisberger to play Oct. 17 at home against Cleveland rather than Oct. 31 at New Orleans.
"I'm very encouraged by what he's doing," Goodell said. "I'll take the period of time that I have before making the decision and make it probably right before the regular season."
Asked what the league still needs to see, Goodell said, "He's got to work through the program that's designed for him to help him. A lot of that is confidential, but he's done it and he's done it with enthusiasm. I think that's a good thing."
Goodell was vague when asked several times if Roethlisberger's suspension could be reduced even further. Later, league officials clarified that the commissioner's April 21 ruling specified a minimum of four games for his alleged sexual assault on a college student early March 5 in Milledgeville, Ga.
Roethlisberger was not charged, but was disciplined by Goodell for violating the NFL personal conduct policy.
Goodell praised Roethlisberger's efforts following the image-damaging incident that left some of the quarterback's biggest fans angry and disgusted.
"I think he's doing great," Goodell said. "I had a chance to chat with him ... and I'm very encouraged by what I'm seeing. I think he's understanding the seriousness of the issue and is working to improve and to make better decisions. I think that's a very positive development."
Goodell again said Roethlisberger is going "above and beyond" what the league was asking.
"He hasn't just done what he's been told to do, I think he's worked hard to really try to improve and focus on himself and understand what's he's been though and what he's going to do differently going forward," Goodell said. "I think that's a very positive thing."
Besides trying to be more fan friendly at camp — he signs autographs for a half hour almost daily — Roethlisberger has made several unpublicized appearances to serve dinners for the Salvation Army and to visit with the families of seriously ill children.
Still, Roethlisberger apparently didn't use Thursday's visit to try to lobby Goodell to cut his suspension.
"He's the commissioner of the league," Roethlisberger said. "He's the boss of the bosses, and he has the right to do what he feels right to make his league run the way that he wants it to be run. It's a tough job. I can't say it's easy because he's got a lot of responsibilities and a lot of people to look over. So he's doing what he feels is right."
Some Steelers fans believe Roethlisberger, a two-time Super Bowl winner, received overly harsh punishment because other well-known players recently escaped punishment for their off-field actions.
Bengals running back Cedric Benson was not disciplined for his role in a bar fight. Titans quarterback Vince Young also wasn't punished after getting into a fight at a strip club.
"The circumstances are different," Goodell said. "You have to look at the facts of each one ... and make a decision you believe is in the best interests of the individual."
Since the Steelers opened camp a week ago, Roethlisberger has split time with Byron Leftwich as the team prepares two starting quarterbacks, one to begin the season and the other to play most of it. Roethlisberger can play in preseason games, but can have no contact with the team, unless he is injured, once his suspension begins.
Roethlisberger expects to find out exactly what he can and can't do when he meets with Goodell again later this month.
"I've got some ideas up my sleeve that will help me stay in shape, stay around football without breaking any rules," Roethlisberger said. "Obviously you can't do anything with the Steelers organization. Hopefully we've just got to talk with him (Goodell) and make sure that he's OK with it. But we've got some good ideas that I'm sure you guys will hear about pretty soon."
Roethlisberger has been greeted warmly by spectators during training camp, a possible sign that the hostility previously directed toward him might be easing as the season nears and fans focus on football rather than off-field issues.