Free safety Chris Hope specializes in defense, yet he offered a solution for the struggling Steelers offense.
"He's the leader, and he hasn't played a lot," Hope said of the Pro Bowl wideout Ward, who held out of training camp for 15 days, missed the preseason opener and has played sparingly the past two preseason games. "He hasn't been able to give that signature, that stamp that you need from your leader.
"He sets the tone, especially for those receivers. He dictates what type of crew it's going to be. So, until he gets in there full-time, it will be hard for the offense to be all that it can be."
Ward, like the rest of the first-teamers, will play only a quarter in the preseason finale tonight at the Carolina Panthers, according to coach Bill Cowher. That leaves them with precious little time to make an impact after crawling through three preseason games.
The big O has been the big No thus far, contributing zero touchdowns, failing on more than 80 percent of its third-down tries, turning the ball over three times and moving at a snail's pace.
The top three receivers on the depth chart -- Ward, Antwaan Randle El and Cedrick Wilson -- have combined for nine catches and 86 yards. The top two tight ends -- Jerame Tuman and Heath Miller -- have a total of three catches for 11 yards. And quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is 14 of 30 for 121 yards with no touchdowns, an interception and a passer rating of 30.0. He's averaging 4.0 yards per completion.
The only bright spot among the skill players is tailback Willie Parker, who would be third on the depth chart if Duce Staley (knee) and Jerome Bettis (calf) were healthy. All three will miss tonight's game, notably Parker. because Cowher wants to preserve him for the season opener against Tennessee 10 days from now at Heinz Field.
"The reason I say Hines needs to establish himself is because everybody reacts once he gets it going, it makes an impact that can't be explained," Hope said. "It's like the way our defense is. We set the tone for this team. Everybody plays off of us, the special teams, the offense. It's the same with Hines. People naturally play off the things he does."
Ward, who has three catches for 19 yards in the preseason, agrees with Hope, in theory.
"If one guy can go out there and make a play, it might be a trickling effect," Ward said. "It would (have a) trickle-down effect, and everybody will make plays, he said. We aren't going to hit the panic button. We look good in practice. We just have to move over to a game-time situation. I think we need to put a good drive together. We need to put seven or eight plays together."
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