Steelers Notebook: Stapleton scheduled for left knee surgery

Essex shifts to guard; center Hartwig's toe still hurting

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If the Steelers are looking for cohesiveness on their offensive line, they are off to a bad start.

Guard Darnell Stapleton, who has been bothered by an undisclosed left knee injury since before training camp, will have arthroscopic surgery today and will be out for an indefinite period.

Also, center Justin Hartwig, who has been limited in practice by a sore right toe, said the toe is "still pretty sore" and doesn't want to rush back for fear of re-injury.

Coach Mike Tomlin would not say how long Stapleton will be out, but recovery from such procedures usually takes two to four weeks.

Stapleton has missed the past four days of practice and has been replaced by backup tackle Trai Essex, who could remain in that right guard position even when Stapleton returns.

The injury bothered Stapleton during the spring and got worse once he reported to training camp and began practicing. With Stapleton out and Hartwig not participating in team drills, first-year free-agent Doug Legursky and rookie A.Q. Shipley of Penn State and Moon High School have been handling the center duties.

"It's tough," Hartwig said of Stapleton. "He's a guy that really stepped up for us big last year. Trai Essex can step it up and play, too. But it still remains to be seen what's injured with Darnell. He's a real important player for us."

Ward back on field again

Wide receiver Hines Ward practiced yesterday for the first time since the first day of workouts, but outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley (right knee) and tight end/running back Sean McHugh (left knee) did not practice because of swelling.

Running back Mewelde Moore (hamstring) did not practice for the second day in a row and was joined by wide receiver Martin Nance (hamstring). Safety Troy Polamalu (hamstring) was held out of practice for a second consecutive day, but Tomlin said Polamalu is "ready to go."

Tomlin also said rookie defensive end Sonny Harris (strained groin) is getting close to returning after missing the past four days.

About Ward, Tomlin said: "We got tired of Hines coaching a little bit. We put a helmet on him and let him go out and make a few plays."

Hartwig frustrated

The player who usually lines up to Stapleton's immediate left continues to be limited in camp by a right big toe injury, and Hartwig is none too pleased about it.

"My job is football," said Hartwig. "It drives me crazy that I can't do that.

"I've been getting work in, but I'm just not going full speed yet. It's still pretty sore. I definitely have more treatment to do. I want to make sure things are more stable before I go back out on it. It's tough, sitting there watching."

Hartwig didn't have a timetable for his return to full practice. He didn't worry about it, either, because the opener is a month away.

"But this doesn't set me back at all. I know the offense inside and out. I feel really good about my technique after minicamp. The Super Bowl wasn't that long ago. And I'm in my eighth year now, I know what I'm doing."

Rookie lauds vets' care

Defensive end Ziggy Hood, the team's No. 1 draft choice, said he was told after he was drafted how the veteran players are willing to work with rookies to help them improve. But he still can't believe how players such as Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel have done that with him.

"I was always told this is more a family-type of team where if I need help I can go pretty much to anybody and, any aid I'm seeking, I can go over to a vet and he'll help me out because it isn't a selfish team," Hood said. "You can't have six Super Bowls without being unselfish. That's how great they are."

Quick hits

University of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari, a Moon native and former Pitt assistant, was a visitor to training camp yesterday and watched practice from the sideline. Calipari arranged the trip through wide receivers coach Randy Fichtner, who was an assistant football coach at Memphis when Calipari was the head basketball coach there. "You respect what he's done in the basketball arena," Tomlin said of Calipari, whom he met before practice. ... The team practiced for the first time with officials, something that Tomlin said is needed because "we need to understand we need to keep it clean." ... The Steelers will practice twice today, but the morning session is closed to the public. They will have a night practice at Latrobe's Memorial Stadium, beginning at 7.

Gerry Dulac can be reached at . Chuck Finder can be reached at .


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