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lamberts-lost-tooth 08-22-2006 03:55 AM

Ward returns to Steelers practice
 
Ward returns to Steelers practice ? and hopes he stays there

Hines Ward was doing this exactly a year ago: rushing to fit several weeks of training camp into a few days and squeezing an exhibition season's worth of playing time into half a game.
Ward, a four-time Pro Bowl receiver, practiced again Monday with the Pittsburgh Steelers after being out since Aug. 4 with a sore left hamstring. He has missed both of their exhibition games, although the Steelers' skill-position starters played little in either one.

"Fortunately for me, it's the preseason and not the regular season, so I'm not missing the games that really count for us," Ward said Monday. "I'm putting in the extra time to get it healed. Time is the only way to heal a hamstring. When you're going out there cutting, getting in and out of breaks, that's when I feel it sometimes."

Ward felt a slight twinge while running a pass route during a 7-on-7 drill and missed the last 15 minutes of the two-hour practice. Coach Bill Cowher was unaware of any problem and said the Steelers were only making sure Ward didn't overdo it on his first day back.

"He didn't finish it because we try to monitor how many reps he gets there," Cowher said. "It's good to have him back."

Ward also had a short training camp last year for a different reason: a contract holdout that kept him out of camp for about two weeks. This time, he had a week's worth of practice before getting hurt.

The injury has prevented the Super Bowl MVP from working on his timing with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and with getting back up to game speed. He's spent much of his time in camp not running routes but showing them to second-year receiver Nate Washington, who unexpectedly made the roster last season and has had a strong camp this year.

To hasten his return, Ward has brought in several specialists at his own expense to try to get healthy, in addition to getting extra treatments from the Steelers' medical staff every day.

"It's been frustrating," Ward said. "I've been getting rehab, getting up earlier than the rest of the guys to get it and spending my day off up here rehabbing while the other guys stayed in Pittsburgh. But it feels good now and we'll give it a go. Going out there and having a guy hanging all over me, and coming in and out of routes, we'll see how it goes from there."

Ward had never missed a game in eight NFL seasons until sitting out an Oct. 16 overtime loss to Jacksonville last season with an injured right hamstring. The injury bothered him for weeks, though he said little about it and didn't miss any more games.

That's why this injury is a concern, mostly because Ward has never been out of practice this long since he began playing football. The pressure to get back on the field isn't as great as it would be if it were the regular season, but Ward does feel a sense of urgency to play Friday night at Philadelphia.

Coach Bill Cowher always plays his starters longer in the third exhibition game than in any other ? sometimes, nearly a full half ? so Ward doesn't want to miss this game. The starters aren't likely to play more than a series or two in the final preseason Aug. 31 against Carolina, and Ward wouldn't be playing with the other regulars even if he stayed out longer than that.

"This is an important game for me because this is really our last dress rehearsal," Ward said. "The last preseason game we probably won't get much playing time. For me, to really get a feel for the game, going against a great team like Philadelphia, this is an important week for me."


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