Steelers Notebook: Berger to keep punting job despite bad day

Keisel might return to face Baltimore

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Marvel Smith will miss his ninth consecutive game and Mitch Berger will keep his job as the team's punter.

That and the possible return of defensive end Brett Keisel highlighted the news from Mike Tomlin's news conference yesterday.

Of course, Smith missing a game is nothing new. He has had back issues for more than two months. The surprise is they keep holding a roster spot for him. Max Starks will make his ninth consecutive start at offensive left tackle in place of Smith.

Berger has been terrible this season, particularly so Sunday against Dallas when he averaged just 32.8 gross yards on six punts. In his two stints with the Steelers this season, Berger has averaged 40.6 yards gross and 37.6 net. His net ranks 19th in the NFL and is still better than the punter who replaced him earlier, Paul Ernster; he had a 31.6 gross average, 31.3 net.

Tomlin blamed the wind for Berger's bad day Sunday.

"Hopefully, the weather conditions won't be as bad as they were last Sunday, but they probably will. The good thing about it from Sunday's standpoint was that their punter struggled when he punted in that direction as well."

Keisel has missed two games with a sprained left MCL but might "participate" this week. Travis Kirschke has done well as his replacement at defensive right end.

"Travis is doing a heck of a job for us," Tomlin said. "This isn't his first stint. Brett's been down before, and he's stepped in and played quality ball for us in the first part of the year along with Chris Hoke and some other guys."

A thumbs-up

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger grabbed his left hand in pain after he lost a fumble on a sneak in the game against Dallas Sunday. Roethlisberger previously announced that a ligament in his left thumb was damaged earlier this season and he needed to wear a brace.

"No issue with his thumb whatsoever," Tomlin explained yesterday.

Pleasant dilemma

Cornerback Bryant McFadden played in some nickel and dime defenses in his first game back after missing six with a broken forearm.

The question now is whether he will regain his starting job at left cornerback from William Gay, who has started four games there. Even though Gay began the season as the No. 4 cornerback, he is tied for the team lead with Ike Taylor with 11 passes defensed.

"I thought he did a nice job," Tomlin said of McFadden's play against the Cowboys. "He knocked the rust off rather quickly. It looked like he was decisive. He moved around fluidly. He made the plays that he needed to make.

"But I think William Gay is continuing to play well. Those are good problems to have. We're going to address those as the week unfolds, but we feel good with either one of those guys or both of those guys on the field for us."

Kings of the road

The Steelers are 5-1 on the road, their only loss at Philadelphia. They are 5-2 at home and play two on the road before they finish at Heinz Field.

"I know it's one of the things we talked about in the offseason," Tomlin said. "If we wanted to be one of those kind of teams that are vying for the Lombardi [Trophy], we had to be capable of winning in all environments, different circumstances, game times, etc.

"I did point out and acknowledge to the group that last year's Super Bowl champions, the [New York] Giants, were 7-1 on the road in '07. I just think that's a sign of great teams. Great teams are capable of winning in hostile environments. But in terms of what we're doing to prepare, how we're preparing, nothing has changed."

Looking ahead

The Steelers will clinch the AFC North Division with a victory in Baltimore and virtually assure themselves of the No. 2 playoff seed in the conference. They can lose and would still win the division and earn the No. 2 seed with victories in their final two games.



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