The floodwaters of Steelers injuries subsided yesterday as defensive end Brett Keisel returned to practice, others on the sideline prepared to return and the forecast for a sunny weekend off brightened everyone's mood.
Running back Willie Parker sprinted, nose tackle Casey Hampton jogged, and Jeff Reed's left calf strain in his planting leg improved and should not prevent him from kicking when the Steelers resume play Oct. 19 in Cincinnati.
"I think this bye is coming at the right time," Keisel said. "I think Casey will be back, I think Willie will be back. Hopefully, we got our injuries out of the way at the beginning of the year and we can make this run."
• Game: Steelers (4-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-5).
• When: 1 p.m., Oct. 19.
• TV: KDKA.
• Inside: So just where was Max Starks in the latest shuffling of the offensive line Sunday night in Jacksonville? Hard to say.
Keisel, out since his calf was injured in the season's second game, was the only injured player to return to practice. But Parker (knee) and Hampton (groin) will be ready to go against Cincinnati, as will Reed and tackle Marvel Smith (cramps).
"He is appreciative of having the opportunity to practice," coach Mike Tomlin said of Keisel. "He was the liveliest set of legs that we had out there today."
Reed called his injury a fluke, having occurred during his kickoff just before halftime in Jacksonville He returned to kick off to the Jacksonville 1 to start the second half.
"I expect to be back," Reed declared after practice yesterday. "It doesn't feel great right now, but it happened two days ago. It's a nice time to have a bye week, to say the least."
"He is going to be fine, I think," Tomlin said.
There was some question if Reed might have been able to attempt a field goal as the Steelers drove into Jacksonville territory, trailing by one point in the closing minutes of the game Sunday night. It became moot when Ben Roethlisberger completed an 18-yard pass to Hines Ward on third down and then pitched the game-winner to Ward from 8 yards out with 1:53 left.
"He had a kick in him if we needed it," Tomlin said. "The outer limits of his range remain to be a question."
Reed said he could have kicked using a shorter step because of his injured left calf.
"I was warming up into the net, so I could have done it, especially if it were a shorter field goal," he said. "It probably would have been a 1 1/2 step, instead of a full 2 steps."
Reed said his calf "got real tight, balled back a little bit and then gradually got worse as the game went on."
The Steelers tried a 2-point conversion that would have pushed their lead to seven points but it failed. Punter Mitch Berger then kicked off, the ball traveling 59 yards to Jacksonville's 11.
Berger could be a candidate to kick off in Cincinnati even if Reed is healthy enough for place kicks.
"We will take a look at how he looks at the beginning of next week and then make a determination of what direction we will go in regards to that," Tomlin said of Reed's injury. "Berger is capable. He did it for 12 years in the league, but it is premature at this point. We are just going to let [Reed] rest up and see what he looks like at the top of next week."
That's the prognosis for a lot of players. Many of them did not practice yesterday, including Roethlisberger, who missed two full practices last week as he continues to fight through a sore right shoulder.
"I know that he will be healthy enough to play winning football," Tomlin said of his quarterback. "I think he is there right now even though he is not comfortable all of the time from a standpoint of preparation, at least from where I see it. But yes, he is going to be closer to 100 percent healthy. We will see where he is at the end of this thing."
Ed Bouchette can be reached at email@example.com . First Published October 8, 2008 4:00 AM