Willie Parker's return to the starting lineup didn't last very long.
After finally returning from a four-game absence to play in Monday night's victory against the Washington Redskins, the two-time Pro Bowl running back has a new injury -- an ailing shoulder -- and will not play against the Indianapolis Colts.
Parker injured his shoulder sometime in the third quarter against the Redskins -- "I'm not sure how," he said -- but still finished the game. His shoulder did not begin aching until the next day, and he has not practiced this week. Parker finished with 70 yards on 21 carries in his first game back from a sprained ligament in his left knee.
He is expected to miss only one game and will be replaced by Mewelde Moore, who averaged 101 yards rushing and scored four touchdowns in three previous starts. Moore had three big catches for 45 yards against the Redskins.
Meantime, Ben Roethlisberger missed practice for the second day in a row but will attempt to practice today -- an indication that he and the Steelers intend for him to play against the Colts. However, a final determination likely will not be made until game day.
Wide receiver Hines Ward (knee), cornerback Deshea Townsend (heel), outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley (calf) and left tackle Marvel Smith (back) also did not practice. But, with the exception of Smith, they are expected to play.
Ernster re-signed to punt
Paul Ernster said yesterday he knew he might be getting another call from the Steelers when he saw punter Mitch Berger limping off the field a couple weeks ago against the New York Giants.
Two months after he was released in the final cut of training camp, Ernster was re-signed Wednesday to replace Berger, who was released after a poor punting performance against the Washington Redskins.
"It's great to be back," said Ernster, a fourth-year free agent who has punted in 19 NFL games. "I kind of had a feeling soon as I saw Mitch hobbling off field a couple games back and I made sure I was extra ready that, if they called me, I could show them I was still the same guy they had in camp."
Ernster was signed July 29 to replace Daniel Sepulveda, who had surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament and was placed on injured reserve. But the Steelers also brought in Berger, a 13-year veteran, on Aug. 10 and conducted a two-game competition to see who would win the job.
The Steelers chose Berger when Ernster had punts of 33 and 22 yards in the preseason finale.
"I knew [the competition] was close," Ernster said. "Anytime you put it up in the air, teams are going to go with the more veteran guy, which is understandable. Mitch is a great punter; he has a great track record. It's just unfortunate he got hurt the way he did."
Freeney still a sack threat
Indianapolis defensive end Dwight Freeney might not be having the kind of season he had in 2004 when he led the NFL with 16 sacks. With three sacks in eight games, he isn't even on pace to have double-digit sacks -- something he has done in four other seasons.
That doesn't matter to quarterback Byron Leftwich, who used to play twice a season against Freeney when Leftwich was with Jacksonville.
"I was asked who I thought the best defensive player in this league was and I always said Dwight Freeney because of the havoc he causes every play," he said.
"I'd have to agree with that," said left tackle Max Starks, who will make his fourth consecutive start for injured Smith. "He's a heck of a player. He's not prototypical at the defensive end position. He's an anomaly, just like James Harrison. He plays bigger than he really is."
Freeney and defensive end Robert Mathis have combined for 110 sacks and 61 forced fumbles in their careers with the Colts.
"You have to be able to block Dwight and them," Leftwich said. "That's the whole key. Those guys are not big guys, but they are fast guys."
Polamalu: Miller is top TE
Safety Troy Polamalu is in the midst of a streak in which he will face three consecutive Pro Bowl tight ends -- Washington's Chris Cooley, Indianapolis' Dallas Clark and San Diego's Antonio Gates.
But Polamalu thinks the most compete tight end in the league is the one who won't be playing against the Colts -- the Steelers' Heath Miller, who has a high ankle sprain and could miss a couple games.
"Heath, to me, is the most complete tight end in the NFL," said Polamalu, a four-time Pro Bowl safety. "He can block and he catches everything. That's what Dallas does -- he catches everything."
One week after getting to emulate Antwaan Randle El in practice, return specialist Jayson Foster was released from the practice squad and running back Justin Vincent was re-signed.