Says Randle El..
Antwaan Randle El believes the Steelers can win a Super Bowl with or without Pro Bowl wide receiver Hines Ward, whose holdout reached its 14th day Saturday.
"Yeah, we can win the championship," Randle El said. "That's the whole idea."
Randle El's belief goes against what linebacker Joey Porter proclaimed two weeks ago when reporting for training camp.
"We can't win without him," Porter said then.
Perhaps Randle El and Porter disagree, or, maybe, the Steelers are learning to adjust without their star pass-catcher.
"He's not here, but we have to keep working, keep going," Randle El said.
Added wideout Cedrick Wilson: "We definitely gotta move forward because we have a game in less than a month (the regular-season opener Sept. 11). We gotta practice and prepare as such, as if he's not going to be here. Unfortunately, that's the way football goes."
Ward has said he will not return to the Steelers until he's offered a contract extension to his liking. The Steelers have said they won't negotiate with Ward until he shows up.
Ward, who is scheduled to make $1.66 million this season, turned down the richest contract offer in Steelers history just days before camp. The Steelers turned down Ward's counter-offer.
So, while the stalemate continues, the Steelers are pressing on. They completed their second week of training camp yesterday and are preparing for the preseason opener Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles at Heinz Field.
"We don't know when he's coming back or if he's coming back," Randle El said. "The fact is, right now, he's not here. We understand why he's not here. We have to respect the business side of it. But since we got to camp, this is us, this is what we have and we're going to make plays and do what we can to make the offense more productive and go from there."
Steelers coaches have been impressed thus far with the play of Randle El, who returned to practice yesterday after missing two days with an ankle injury, and free-agent signee Wilson, who moved into Ward's spot at flanker. Wilson caught 47 passes for 641 yards with 49ers last season and is building a strong rapport with second-year quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Wilson did not go as far to say the Steelers can win a championship without Ward, but he sees a team that continues to mesh as the Sept. 11 opener against Tennessee approaches.
"We're going to go out there and win games, that's what we're going to do," Wilson said. "You want to win them all. Everybody wants to win them all; you know that's tough in this league. So I can't predict whether we're going to win or lose, but I'll tell you what, we're going to give great effort and we want to win."
If Ward opts to hold out into the regular season, he'll have 1/17th of his salary deducted, or about $100,000, for each game he misses. If he were to holdout past the trade deadline in Week 6 (Tuesday, Oct. 18), he would not be permitted to return to the Steelers unless the team initiated a request for reinstatement.
If he were to hold out past Dec. 2, he would not be permitted to play this season under any circumstances, thereby losing the opportunity to become a free agent at the end of the season.
Running back Jerome Bettis has sided with Ward since the start of camp, saying the Steelers should meet the wideout's demands. Bettis playfully yelled, "Free Hines Ward," on Friday at the end of a segment he did for ESPN's Pardon The Interruption.
"I was just joking around, throwing it out there," Bettis said yesterday. "I just expect him to be here and for them to work it out."
If not, Randle El still believes the Steelers can still be successful.
"We can win games without him," Randle El said. "When I say without, I mean with the crew we have. Would we win games with him? Of course. But we have some guys who can step up and make plays. And we've certainly shown that in training camp. It's just a matter of us continuing to do it when the games come around."