The Steelers will be without five starters when they play the Jacksonville Jaguars tomorrow night in a nationally televised game. At least, they won't be without two others.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger returned to practice yesterday for the first time this week, a day after he received an injection in his sore right shoulder.
He was joined by Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison, who missed the first two days of practice because of a deep thigh bruise sustained in the Monday night victory against the Baltimore Ravens.
Both players will start against the Jaguars, who have won the past four meetings in the series. The five starters who will not play are running back Willie Parker, fullback Carey Davis, offensive guard Kendall Simmons, nose tackle Casey Hampton and defensive end Brett Keisel.
They are also without Parker's top backup, rookie running back Rashard Mendenhall, who fractured his shoulder against the Ravens and was placed on injured reserve along with Simmons (torn Achilles).
Because Mewelde Moore will start at running back, Najeh Davenport will return kickoffs against the Jaguars, a role he usually assumed in his previous two seasons with the Steelers.
And, for the second game in a row, wide receiver Santonio Holmes will return punts, though Moore might be used on returns from inside their 20.
Because of the injury to Davis (sprained ankle), No. 3 tight end Sean McHugh will serve as the fullback -- a role he handled just fine when he had to replace Davis against the Ravens, said offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.
McHugh, a five-year veteran from Penn State, was signed as a free agent right before the start of the regular season.
"He's been everything we thought when we got him," Arians said.
Even though cornerback Deshea Townsend will play for the second game in a row, Bryant McFadden will continue to be the starter at left cornerback, coach Mike Tomlin said.
Townsend will serve as the nickel back in the team's substitution packages. Tomlin, however, was careful not to say that McFadden has permanently unseated Townsend at that position.
"He is a starter and Deshea is healthy enough to play, we'll say that," Tomlin said. "It really doesn't matter. He's out there playing. But, right now, Bryant McFadden is the starter at left corner."
Many of the Steelers can still see Jaguars quarterback David Garrard running for 32 yards on a fourth-and-2 play to set up the winning field goal in their AFC playoff loss in January to Jacksonville.
And linebacker Larry Foote can still see the holding penalties that weren't called on the play, especially one against Jaguars left tackle Khalif Barnes on outside linebacker James Harrison.
"There were a lot, but it was definitely [Harrison] and [Casey] Hampton," Foote said. "They tackled Hamp; it looked like one of those punt-return holds. And Harrison? That was the easiest one they should have called.
"When you look back, when you take the emotion out of it, they missed calls all over the place. That's the way it goes."
When asked about the play the other day, Barnes said, smiling: "It's a shame you believe everything Larry Foote tells you. He's a Michigan guy. You can't trust those guys."
Then, he added, good-naturedly, "You tell [Foote] I can't remember any holding. That was last year. I don't remember that play. I remember blocking James Harrison. But I can't remember any one play. I sure don't remember any hold. The only hold I remember is Hines Ward holding one of our defensive backs in the end zone."
When Foote was told of Barnes' comments, he laughed.
"I was upset, I'm still upset," Foote said. "They took a little money out of our pockets."
Jaguars running back Fred Taylor has many admirers on the Steelers, and not just because they have watched him have two of the biggest games of his career against them in Pittsburgh -- 234 yards rushing at Three Rivers Stadium in 2000 and 147 yards last year at Heinz Field.
One of his biggest admirers, though, is Holmes, his second cousin. Holmes marvels that Taylor, at age 32 and in his 11th NFL season, remains such a productive running back.
Taylor finished the 2007 regular season with five consecutive 100-yard games -- the only NFL back to have that many consecutive 100-yard games last season.
"He trains real hard in the offseason," Holmes said.
"I spent the year training with him after my first year and I saw a lot of the things he does. He prepared himself a lot. That just shows what kind of guy he is and that he can still get the job done."