Steelers notes: Team healthy for opener
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By Mike Bires, Times Sports Staff
Published: Wednesday, September 3, 2008 12:25 AM EDT
PITTSBURGH --- As the Steelers begin preparations for Sunday’s regular-season opener, they have no one expected to miss the game due to injuries.
In fact, at his first weekly press conference Tuesday, coach Mike Tomlin didn’t even bring an injury report with him.
“We appear to be in great condition,” Tomlin said. “The only question mark at this point is Larry Foote and he appears to not be a question mark. We’re getting healthy at the appropriate time.”
Foote, a starting inside linebacker, suffered a mild knee sprain in the Aug. 23 preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings. He then missed the Aug. 28 exhibition against the Carolina Panthers.
But he was back at practice Monday and worked with the first-team defense.
“I do expect him to be ready to go Sunday,” Tomlin said. “I watched him move around (Monday) in practice. I thought he did well. We gave him the necessary rest to get that thing healthy last week and so far so good.”
Speaking of Foote, he’s expected to start at right inside linebacker against the Texans even though Lawrence Timmons, last year’s No. 1 draft pick, will take over that starting job sooner or later.
Tomlin suggested Tuesday that Foote, Timmons and left inside linebacker James Farrior will rotate. Foote can also play Farrior’s position.
“We’re blessed with great depth at the linebacker position,” Tomlin said. “Those guys are going to play for us, James Farrior, Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons.
“I could care less who runs out of the tunnel (as starters for pre-game introductions). That’s irrelevant. What is relevant is that those three play football for us because they’re playmakers. You’ll see that on Sunday.”
For the time being at least, rookie running back Rashard Mendenhall will return kickoffs. Running back Mewelde Moore, an off-season free-agent acquisition who’s the Steelers’ so-called “third down back,” will return punts. Wide receiver Santonio Holmes may be used as a punt returner in certain situations.
As far as who will be the Steelers’ short-yardage and goal-line back, starting halfback Willie Parker will probably get the call for now.
Tomlin is uncertain how he’ll use Mendenhall due to the No. 1 draft pick’s fumbling problems in the last two preseason games.
“That’s to be determined,” Tomlin said of his plans for Mendenhall. “We’re looking at his preparation this week, his attention to detail in terms of how he executes his assignments, and his level of ball security. That process will be ongoing. We’ll see as we get closer to game time.”
SWEED OR BAKER?
It’s highly unlikely that the Steelers will dress five wide receivers Sunday.
With Holmes, Hines Ward and Nate Washington set as the top three wideouts, that means either Limas Sweed or Dallas Baker will be designated a game-day inactive.
Sweed is the 6-foot-4 rookie taken in the second round of this year’s draft. Baker, who’s 6-3, was a seventh-round pick last year and spent his rookie season on the practice squad.
“Right now we have two guys vying for the fourth receiver spot in terms of this week’s game, and that’s Dallas Baker and Limas Sweed,” Tomlin said. “Both have had their moments positively and negatively (in the preseason). We’re going to let those guys continue to compete for the right to join those other three known men in the rotation this week.”