Pool Report – Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2009
By Peter King
Pro Football Writers of America
TAMPA—Hines Ward, the leading receiver in Steelers history, was the only one of the 53 active Pittsburgh players to be limited due to injury as the five-time Super Bowl champions began their practice week for Super Bowl 43 on the two football practice fields at the University of South Florida Wednesday afternoon.
The team worked without pads on a beautiful Florida afternoon—77 degrees, sunny skies, with 15-mph winds from the south—on the USF campus north of downtown Tampa. Second-year coach Mike Tomlin began the one-hour, 58-minute session with a shout of "Let's go to work, men,'' and pronounced himself satisfied with the work on what Steeler observers said was the nicest outdoor practice day the team has had since October.
"It was a good start to our week,'' Tomlin said after practice. "We practiced fas t, and I thought we practiced aggressively. But it's like I say to the team after every Wednesday practice: It's a good start, but we've got to be better tomorrow.''
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has intermittent shoulder problems during the season, looked sharp and threw several tight long spirals, including one bullet to Santonio Holmes through the wind. Running back Willie Parker, after battling shoulder and knee problems during the season, ran fast and confidently. Other than Ward, the 32-year old inspirational lead of the Pittsburgh offense, the Steelers have no health issues on either side of the ball, Tomlin said. But the coach was dismissive when asked if he was concerned about Ward's status for Sunday's game. Here's the evidence that Tomlin is not fretting about Ward: He didn't watch his star receiver running and cutting on the side field during the hour that Ward worked out away from the team.
Ward is expected to practice with the regular offense more on Thursday.
"Hines is playing,'E2 Tomlin said. "I'm not worried about him.''
Ward strained a knee ligament in the first quarter of the AFC Championship Game victory over Baltimore 10 days ago. Wearing a small black knee brace this afternoon, Ward walked onto the practice field shortly after 1 p.m. and walked through some plays with the first-team offense just before practice began at 1:30. Then, at the start of practice, he jogged through a few pass-routes with the regular offense before working out on his own for the next 55 minutes. Ward caught balls from the Juggs machine. Then four cones were laid out in a 10-yard square, and Ward ran 10-yard-incut pass-routes at about half-speed and caught passes. Then he ran sideline-to-sideline at slightly better than half-speed before encasing the knee in ice for about a half-hour. From the looks of how he ran Wednesday, Ward won't be 100 percent Sunday against Arizona, but there's little doubt he'll be in the starting lineup.
Tomlin said he was pleased with the condition of the practice fields at USF, though the freshly installed Bermuda sod was damaged by two days of sub-freezing temperatures at night last week. NFL turf guru George Toma, in charge of the Steelers fields, said the turf turned brown due to the frigid weather but three coats of field paint had them looking fresh. "The freeze turned the fields brown,'' said the 79-year-old Toma, who has worked every Super Bowl. "But it didn't hurt the fields at all.'' There were no complaints from the players or Steeler staff about the field, and the players seemed very happy to be working in warm weather on grass that held firm.
"George is awesome,'' said Tomlin. "We're not finicky. The fields are fine.''
The NBC crew televising Sunday's game was present at practice, as was former Steeler quarterback Mark Malone, part of the national radio crew for the game.
The Steelers will practice on their regular schedule this week, with Thursday and Friday workouts at USF, then a short walk-through practice Saturday.