Steeler Notebook: Contract progress crawls for Ward

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Hines Ward wore an interesting outfit into the Steelers' locker room yesterday. His baseball cap shrieked "Texas Chainsaw Massacre." His T-shirt, in large letters, boasted: "Can't Sell Dope Forever."

"No," Ward was quick to answer, laughing, "I don't sell dope."

There was a message there, somewhere, and it has something to do with his stalled contract extension talks, but he preferred to let reporters and fans try to figure it out.

"Take it for what it's worth," Ward said.

With the Sept. 11 start of the regular season as their deadline, the Steelers and agent Eugene Parker have made little progress toward a contract extension for Ward, who enters the final year of a deal that will pay him a $1.67 million salary in 2005.

"Nothing happening," said Ward, who ended a 15-day contract holdout and has played in the past two exhibition games, albeit briefly.

Burress off base

Ward said Plaxico Burress was off the mark when his former teammate accused the Steelers of putting him in "shackles" and their fans of racism.

Burress told WTAE-TV's Jon Burton recently that, with the Steelers, "I felt my opportunities were kind of limited, so to speak, and at times, I kind of felt myself like playing in shackles. They weren't going to change, and I wasn't going to change."

Burress, who signed as a free agent with the New York Giants after five years with the Steelers, told Burton that "I was never really liked in that city. I mean, I don't think I was liked as a person. I was kind of seen as a black kid, young African-American, cornrows, drives fancy cars, wears diamond earrings, things like that. They just kind of based their perception off of what I drove and what I did and things like that. All those things were never a part of any other player on that team but me."

Ward, who wears matching 2-carat diamond earrings himself, said the only prejudice Steelers fans show is against players who do not produce.

"As far as the city and him with cornrows and stuff, they love everybody. You go out there and perform, regardless of race, color, ethnic, how you wear your hair, they don't care. The fans here know football. They know the guys who produce and give it all they got and they appreciate it. To sit there and say the city had it out against him, I don't really go along with that. I saw a lot of No. 80 jerseys in the stands."

Burress, in the interview with Burton from Giants training camp in Albany, N.Y., said fans got down on him after he dropped a pass in the end zone in the AFC championship game in January and they never let him forget it.

"It kind of seemed like everything was thrown on my back off of one play that I didn't make," Burress said, "and I took that kind of personal, from the people in that city and some of the things that were said about me."

It's different with the Giants, he said.

"I fit New York more than what I fit Pittsburgh. Nobody's worrying about my big truck or my Rolls-Royce or what I have on. That makes me feel good. People just accept me how I am instead of looking at me and judging me."

Burress also told Burton that the team needs to sign Ward to the long-term contract extension he's seeking.

More cuts

The Steelers must make five more roster moves by 4 p.m. today after they released or waived 10 players yesterday. Those cut were TE/FB Matt Cushing, WR Chris Doering, OT Josh Burr, WR Zamir Cobb, DB Vontez Duff, C Joe Iorio, WR Walter Young, OT Morgan Davis, PK Shaun Suisham and G Jake Verstraete.

Cushing's release left the Steelers with no backup fullback to Dan Kreider. Cowher said they probably will have a fullback on the practice squad but if something were to happen to Kreider during a game, it will necessitate an adjustment.

"Some of our tight ends have worked in that area," coach Bill Cowher said.

After they drafted rookie halfback Noah Herron, the Steelers said they would like him also to learn to play fullback, but Cowher said "He hasn't really had much work there."

Cushing and Doering have been signed and released many times over the past two seasons.

"I told them to stay in the bullpen for me one more year," Cowher said. "You never know."

Injury report

Defensive ends Brett Keisel (ill) and Kimo von Oelhoffen (back) did not practice yesterday, but Cowher thought they would return today. Rookie LB Andre Frazier has a lower leg bruise from the game Friday night and Cowher is uncertain if he will play Thursday.

Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
Wide receiver Hines Ward says Plaxico Burress was off the mark with his comments about the Steelers' fans.
Click photo for larger image.


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