Battles for starting spots heating up
By Scott Brown
Sunday, August 17, 2008
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Justin Hartwig worked with the first-team offensive line Saturday, but Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said he has not settled on a starter at center.
Hartwig is battling incumbent Sean Mahan for the job.
Mahan started the Steelers' first preseason game, while Hartwig started last Thursday night against the Bills in Toronto.
"I think it's important that we get a true evaluation of the position by allowing Justin to continue to work with the first group and get some cohesion, some communication, some silent count issues," Tomlin said. "I like where both those guys are, and I think we've got two viable options there."
There doesn't appear to be a competition at the cornerback spot opposite Ike Taylor even though Bryant McFadden played with the other starters on the Steelers' base defense yesterday.
Tomlin said the Steelers are easing Deshea Townsend, who has started since the 2003 season, back into action. Townsend had been nursing a tender groin, and the Steelers held him out of last Thursday night's game as a precaution.
"I think he's the guy," Tomlin said of Townsend, who is trying to fend off McFadden for yet another year.
Larry Foote still appears to be the guy at right inside linebacker even though he is getting pushed by Lawrence Timmons, who has been one of the Steelers' standouts of the preseason.
The seventh-year veteran worked with the first-team base defense yesterday.
Polamalu close to returning
Troy Polamalu did some running yesterday, and the Steelers have targeted Tuesday as the day that the Pro Bowl strong safety starts practicing with the team.
Polamalu has yet to practice because of a pulled hamstring
Wide receiver Hines Ward rested his ankle yesterday, but he is expected to return to practice today.
Linebackers Keyaron Fox (back), Mike Humpal (stinger), Andre Frazier (shoulder) and Patrick Bailey (knee) did not practice yesterday. Defensive tackle Scott Paxson (stinger) and tight end Cody Boyd (shoulder) also missed practice.
All are considered "day to day," Tomlin said.
Rookie free safety Ryan Mundy appears to be making a fast recovery from the high ankle sprain he suffered in the Steelers' first exhibition game Aug. 8.
The Woodland Hills graduate is no longer wearing a protective boot on his left foot, and Tomlin said Mundy may return to practice this week.
Have at it, Holmes
Santonio Holmes will get a "punt return or two" in next Saturday's game, Tomlin said.
Holmes is one of the Steelers' top playmakers, and he has said he would like to return punts, something he did his rookie season.
Tomlin has been reluctant to use Holmes as a return man because he wants the third-year professional to concentrate on playing wide receiver.
Tomlin appears to be softening that stance.
"I grew up in a generation in Virginia where Darrell Green was a situational return man for the Redskins, and when he went back there, it kind of electrified the crowd," Tomlin said. "We've got a vision of maybe that developing with Santonio. We'll see how it goes."
Dekker gone for the season
The Steelers lost tight end Jon Dekker for the season to a torn ACL in his right knee.
They placed Dekker, who played in three regular-season games last season, on the waived/injured list and signed tight end Lee Vickers.
The Steelers can re-sign Dekker and put the third-year professional on injured reserve if he clears waivers.
Dekker said he blew out his knee while making a cut in the Steelers' 24-21 loss to the Bills Thursday in Toronto.
Vickers was in training camp with the Steelers as a defensive end in 2006. The 6-foot-6, 270-pounder has since switched to tight end, and he played nine games, starting two of them, for the Ravens last season. Baltimore released Vickers last week.
In another roster move that the Steelers made yesterday, the team released defensive end Kevin Huntley.
Huntley was claimed off waivers last Tuesday, but he failed his physical.
Scott Brown can be reached at [email="firstname.lastname@example.org"]email@example.com[/email] or 412-481-5432.