Eight vets miss Steelers first spring practice

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At least eight Steelers veterans did not turn out for the team's first spring practice today, but Hines Ward said not to read anything into the missing.

"We have the main core of guys," said Ward. "Some guys aren't here, some guys' flights got canceled and lot of guys didn't make it. We never had that problem. Once training camp comes around and minicamp next week, we'll have the full team. Everybody will be here. We never had that problem with us."

Among the missing were Santonio Holmes, Willie Parker, Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Larry Foote, Lawrence Timmons, Tyrone Carter and Nick Eason.

Holmes' flight from Florida was delayed, and Ward said the Super Bowl MVP arrived in Pittsburgh too late for the workout which ended at noon. It was the first of 14 voluntary spring workouts that will be held through June 11. A required minicamp will be held May 1-3.

Ward is among a large group of Steelers who enter the final year of their contracts. The last time that happened, Ward held out for the first two weeks of training camp in 2005. He said that won't happen this year, no matter what. Linebacker James Harrison is the only player who had one year left and whose contract was extended this year.

"The contract, we're just going to play and whatever happens happens,'' Ward said.

"I want to be a Steeler . . . I don't want to put on another uniform. I'm late in the game now to worry about it. You look at all the previous players who went on and played for other places. I learned a lot from Jerome [Bettis], what he did. I want to go down in Steelers history to be one of the better wideouts to wear the black and gold."

Ward did not practice today because he is recovering from surgery to repair a torn left rotator cuff after the season. He said he will gradually work himself into things.

Hampton says he'll be ready

Nose tackle Casey Hampton, who skipped most of the voluntary workouts last year, turned out for the first this year and said he will be a frequent participant this spring. He's another player entering the final year of his deal, but said he's not worried.

"They didn't do it last time until training camp so I wouldn't expect anything different. My recent history with coming in out of shape, I think they'll want to see how I'm coming in."

He has no plans to alter his training routine, though. Last year, he spent the first two weeks of camp on the physically unable to perform list because coach Mike Tomlin declared him not in shape to practice.

"It is what is is,'' Hampton said. "I'll be ready to play, that's the bottom line. Whenever, Sept. 10 or 11? I'll be ready to go. That's all that matters."

Super Bowl hangover?

Both Ward and Hampton said they want to win another Super Bowl this season, and their 2006 season taught them something about the so-called Super Bowl hangover.

"I think last time we got a little bit lax," Hampton said. "I think that's going to help us this time and we won't get as complacent as we did last time.''

Ward said his personal goal is to reach 10,000 yards receiving -- he needs 220 yards to do so -- and win a third Super Bowl in five seasons.

"I want to win another one. The teams in the '70s, they won four. If we can win another one, then I think we'll be right up there with New England as one of the teams in the 'dynasty' since I've been here. So, winning another Super Bowl and accomplishing 10,000 yards would be a big thing for me personally.''

NOTES -- Kevin Colbert, the Steelers' director of football operations, said RB Gary Russell was released last week to make room under the salary cap to re-sign backup QB Charlie Batch ... Jared Retkofsy, who became the Steelers' long snapper last season after Greg Warren's ACL was torn, has his right arm in a sling following surgery after a motorcycle accident. Warren snapped in practice today ... Also practicing after 2008 season-ending injuries were RB Rashard Mendenhall (broken shoulder), P Daniel Sepulveda (ACL) and Batch (broken collar bone).


Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com


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