PITTSBURGH – It took only one play for the Pittsburgh Steelers to realize Ben Roethlisberger hadn’t changed a bit.

“He threw me a long bomb right on the money,” receiver Mike Wallace said about the first play of Roethlisberger’s return to practice last week. “I guess it was kind of like a statement, letting them know, ‘I’m here.’ “

But to hear Roethlisberger tell it, the old Big Ben is long gone.

“I’m going back to the person I was raised to be, the person I was before all this,” the quarterback said. “It’s not like I’m going back to being Big Ben and having all these issues.”

Those issues have had Roethlisberger in the harsh light of scrutiny for the past five months. He returned during the Steelers’ week off from a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. He will resume his starting slot today in a home game against Cleveland.

There’s no need to remind the people of Pittsburgh that Roethlisberger was missing. The 3-1 Steelers are ranked last in passing yards (136.0 a game) and pass attempts (81). Pro Bowl receiver Hines Ward leads them in receptions — and he has only 12 in four games. Because of injuries the Steelers have already cycled through quarterbacks Byron Leftwich, Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch.

That sets the stage for Roethlisberger’s return.

“I’m not going out there trying to be Superman. I’m just going to go out and try to play my game,” Roethlisberger said. “If we put up 20 yards and win 3-0, a win is a win.”

Still, the expectations for him are lofty. Said Wallace: “He’s a huge part of our offense. We have our leader back.”

Roethlisberger’s career in Pittsburgh depends on his doing a far better job of leading by example. His suspension stemmed from a sexual assault complaint in Georgia. The allegations did not result in criminal charges — and he denies any wrongdoing — but he faced a similar accusation earlier in his career, and he continues to be under the microscope for his behavior.

Fellow Steelers say they notice positive changes from a player who was aloof and largely out of touch with the impressions he left on people.

“The person we see now is totally different,” Ward said. “He’s hanging out with everybody, not just certain guys on the team. It’s a team unity thing, and I think he has a greater appreciation of football now that it was taken away.”

Said safety Troy Polamalu: “I can imagine undergoing something like that would change somebody immediately.”

the account of players and reporters who are around the quarterback on a daily basis, Roethlisberger has worked hard to repair his image with the league, teammates, the media, and the public. He spends a lot of his free time with his parents, who moved from their home in Findlay, Ohio, to a farm outside of Pittsburgh.

“Ben’s got a better support system around him than he’s ever had before,” said his agent, Ryan Tollner. “He’s certainly on the right track. I’m not saying that he’s arrived. This is going to be a long process. But isn’t that the truth for all of us?”