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08-25-2006, 04:20 AM
Steelers Notebook: Ward still eyes brief preseason exposure
Friday, August 25, 2006

By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Hines Ward missed one regular-season game in his first eight seasons. Tonight, he will miss his third exhibition game when the Steelers play in Philadelphia, and he might miss the game Thursday against Carolina, too.

He's hurt, frustrated, antsy to get back on a practice field and into a game, but he will settle for a return Sept. 7, when the Steelers open the season against Miami at Heinz Field.

"It's still disappointing, coming off a Super Bowl year and Super Bowl MVP, to come back in training camp and only getting a week's worth of practice," said Ward, his injured right hamstring packed in ice. "It's frustrating. I would have liked to have been out there competing and feeling good, but my job now is to get healthy. If I get healthy and get ready for that opener against Miami, that's the main thing."

Second-year pro Nate Washington, who caught one pass as a rookie all last season (in the AFC championship game), will make his third consecutive start in place of Ward at flanker. Coach Bill Cowher won't play his starters long Thursday against the Panthers, not with the opener the following Thursday night. It's possible some might not play at all in the exhibition finale, although there's one who still wants to do so.

"I'd like to get at least a series," Ward said. "I will lobby for it, but, at the same time, coach knows what's best for his team. I would like to get hit around before I go into the regular season and actually go into a full game without having playing time in the preseason.

"But, if I'm not 100 percent, I won't push it."


Holmes still adjusting


Rookie Santonio Holmes won't soon start unless there are more injuries to wide receivers. He is fourth or fifth on the depth chart, not because he had a poor training camp, but because Ward, Cedrick Wilson and Washington are ahead of him.

He could make spot contributions to the Steelers, but he is not expected to make any big ones as a receiver this season. It's a long way from the 2000 season, when first-round pick Plaxico Burress opened his rookie training camp as the starting split end.

"It was very tough mentally," Holmes said of his first pro camp. "My body took a beating at the start, but toward the end, I started to work a little harder, started to relax a lot more because I learned the system more."

His goals are more mundane than widespread.

"Personally, my goal right now is to get in my playbook as much as possible, stop making the small mistakes I find myself noticing -- at the snap of the ball or right after the play is over. That's my main goal."

He believes missing most of the Steelers' spring drills because of an NFL policy that he could not join them until his Ohio State classes were over, hurt him this summer.

"It put me behind a lot, because that's a lot I could have learned, and coming into camp, I probably wouldn't have had all these mistakes I've had. But at the same time, I learned a great deal in camp and was able to catch onto the system real fast."

He made a few dazzling catches, one in his first practice, yet his quickest contributions likely will come as a punt-returner. He and fellow rookie receiver Willie Reid dropped into a two-deep punt-return formation last week, and Cowher might continue such a deployment.

"We did that at Ohio State," Holmes said. "You don't really see that in the NFL, but a lot of guys in college do it."


Giant Foote steps


Inside linebacker Larry Foote ended inside linebacker James Farrior's two-year reign as the team's leading tackler last season and aims to stretch that accomplishment to two in a row in 2006.

They have a friendly competition. Foote says Farrior had the advantage because he stays on the field in the nickel and dime defenses. Farrior points out that he missed two games with an injury last season.

"That's his [excuse] when I try to throw it in his face," Foote said.

Foote not only wants to pile up more tackles, he'd like to take Farrior's job at middle linebacker in the nickel and dime defenses.

"I'm trying to take his spot and trying to get better at it, so they can bump his butt out of there," said Foote, who played that position at Michigan.

Said Farrior, "I got a few more years left, so he's going to have to wait on that."