Steelers Notebook: Holmes, Polamalu, Smith hope to play

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The Steelers could welcome the return of three injured starters this week as they prepare to play the unbeaten New England Patriots Sunday.

Wide receiver Santonio Holmes, strong safety Troy Polamalu and left offensive tackle Marvel Smith all could start against the Patriots, coach Mike Tomlin said.

Each has missed the past two games -- Holmes with a high ankle sprain, Polamalu with a sprained knee and Smith with a disc problem in his back.

Tomlin said each will try to practice today, when the players return from having two days off since they defeated Cincinnati Sunday to run their record to 9-3.

"It depends on how they perform in practice," he said.

Haynes may be enlisted

The Steelers yesterday worked out running back Verron Haynes and were discussing last night whether to sign him to their 53-man roster.

Haynes was released by the Steelers after training camp. He was originally a fifth-round draft pick by the team in 2002 then re-signed with the Steelers in the offseason in '06.

"I haven't gotten the word yet," Haynes said from his hotel room. "I'm here waiting for the word. I'm hoping for the best. I would love to come in here. I'm excited for the opportunity, if everything works out."

The Steelers may be looking for someone to fill in for Najeh Davenport, who came down with a mysterious right foot injury near the end of last week.

Davenport, who serves as their third-down back and also backs up starter Willie Parker, did not dress for Sunday's game against Cincinnati. Tomlin said Davenport is questionable after injuring his foot while working out.

"He's been getting some extra work while trying to control his weight as the season wears on," Tomlin said. "To my knowledge, at this point, it might be a product of getting too much time on the elliptical cycle. Be careful as you get your workout in. The elliptical cycle will get you."

Tomlin said Davenport attended the funeral Monday for former University of Miami teammate Sean Taylor in South Florida and would have more tests performed on his foot when he returned yesterday to Pittsburgh.

Parker fumbles addressed

Willie Parker wore rubber sleeves on his arms Sunday night, which John Madden, the Hall of Fame coach broadcasting the game on NBC, said probably contributed to Parker's four fumbles -- two of them official and recovered by the Bengals.

"I've heard that theory," Tomlin said, "but commentators need something to talk about throughout the course of the football game.

"The reality is that with that being excuse-making, we aren't going to make them. We have to hold on to the ball. Willie has to hold on to the ball. Ball security is a big part of our program, in terms of how we try to win football games, with time of possession being one of them. You jeopardize those things -- time of possession and field position -- when you don't hold on to the football, even if you do have a great defense, one that is capable of getting you out of tough spots. That standard is not going to change. You have to hold on to the football."

Tomlin said he has no idea why Parker wore the rubber sleeves and that he will not necessarily tell him not to.

"Those guys have a variety of supplemental equipment they use. Sometimes they feel like they need it. Sometimes it's a fashion statement. I was the same way when I was a young guy trying to play football.

"Willie is a professional and I trust that he will do what is required for him to be successful. I will ask him to hold on to the football in the future."

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