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Old 07-31-2005, 12:22 AM   #1
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Default Hines Ward & four other Story Lines

Hines Ward & four other Story Lines
Sunday, July 31, 2005
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

1 Life Without Plax, Camp Without Hines?

Hines Ward could turn what would be a major issue anyway -- the first season this century without their game-breaking receiver, Plaxico Burress -- into a larger one if he does not report to training camp tonight.

Holdouts can be overrated -- the Steelers won their first Super Bowl after a summer in which most of their veterans honored a weeks-long players strike in training camp -- but they also can turn divisive, especially when it involves a player as productive and popular as Ward.

Ward said Thursday that he will not report to training camp until he has a contract extension.

Burress became the team's big-play receiver and, although he never made the Pro Bowl, he consistently resided among the top receivers in the league in average yards per catch. In addition, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger developed such a rapport with his former Washington Landings neighbor that he made public pleas for the Steelers to re-sign Burress in free agency.

While the Steelers recognized Burress' value to their offense, they believe newcomer Cedrick Wilson and Antwaan Randle El will be more than up to replacing him. They are faster, quicker and, while significantly smaller at 5-10, more consistent in their routes and with their hands. They plan to move them around, along with Ward, to keep defenses guessing, something they could not do much with Burress, who remained a fixture at split end.

2 Big Ben and the hands behind him

It was an issue last summer as well, but quite a different one this time around. This was to be Big Ben's coming out summer; instead, the question is whether he can come close to repeating his sensational rookie season and, indeed, improve upon it.

No one's asking him to go 13-0 in the regular season again after becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to compile such a record. But he will be expected to handle more of the offense and, as he requested, that offense will open up a little more for him.

Intrigue will surround his backups. Veterans Tommy Maddox and Charlie Batch will compete in camp to become No. 2. The loser may be an odd-man out because it appears Brian St. Pierre will stay on as the No. 3 quarterback. Maddox has some value in a trade, but the coaches have confidence in him and they worry about Batch's health after he missed last season following knee surgery.

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