On the Steelers: Ward approaches 10,000 yards

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Ben Roethlisberger, trying to shoot a fist-sized basketball into a garbage can in the Steelers' locker room yesterday, stopped and popped at the top of the key, which happened to be within earshot of Hines Ward's locker.

"One seventeen is the magic number!" Ward said, his tone slightly higher.

"For what?" Roethlisberger replied as he dropped another into the bucket. "I don't need that many yards."

Ward shook his head and laughed, "Don't worry about it, you'll find out."

Soon enough, perhaps Sunday, Ward will catch passes worth another 117 yards, and that will put him in yet another exclusive club, where the required membership fee is 10,000 yards receiving. here are 31 receivers in NFL history who have reached that number, and Ward relishes becoming No. 32.

"That's a big deal," Ward said, almost to himself. "Ten thousand yards? That speaks volumes. When I first came into the league, there was no way 10,000 yards, 800 catches was a goal. I just wanted to play."

He has 808 receptions after the most productive opener of his career when he caught eight passes for 103 yards, the only time he has hit 100 in an opener in his 12 seasons.

"Ten thousand yards! Not too many people in this league can say they caught 10,000 yards," Ward said. "Catching 10,000 yards here is like catching 12,000 somewhere else."

He has caught them from seven starting quarterbacks -- Kordell Stewart, Mike Tomczak, Kent Graham, Tommy Maddox, Charlie Batch, Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich -- plus two others, Jerome Bettis and Antwaan Randle El.

"Jerome threw me a touchdown pass in Three Rivers on a halfback pass and, of course, Randle El threw me a touchdown in the Super Bowl."

That last one did not wind up in the hands of a fan wearing a Steelers No. 86 jersey, as so many other of his touchdown receptions have. Ward kept that one, and it holds a prized spot in his trophy case. The ball that he uses to cover his 10,000th yard will have a similar spot.

His climb up the wide-receiver charts while playing in mostly a run-oriented offense is remarkable, and while No. 32 on the NFL all-time list might not seem impressive, he can shoot up quickly.

If he gets another 1,000 yards this season, he can approach the top 20 all time, and if he gets another 1,000 in 2010 he can approach the top 15 -- although there are active players ahead of him such as Joey Galloway, Tony Gonzalez and Torry Holt.

But Ward has so much more than those players -- two Super Bowl rings and a Super Bowl MVP. Not bad on a franchise that celebrates Super Bowls and traditionally gets there on the ground.

No huddle becomes popular

The Steelers keep evolving with the no-huddle offense, and the more successful they become at it, the more tempting it is to use it.

After seeing it work when it counted in their past two games, their overtime victory against Tennessee and the Super Bowl, why not use it more?

"Well, we're not Buffalo, we're not the K-Gun of Jim Kelly," coordinator Bruce Arians said. "But we could be; we could be very easily."

Arians said Roethlisberger and the rest of his offense are so comfortable in the no-huddle that most of the offense now can be used with it.

"That package has tripled in size now, and it's damn near the whole offense," Arians said. "It's evolved to where he can almost use 80 percent of the playbook in it, and he's gotten very proficient at it."

It's Parker, then Mendenhall

The Steelers have laid out plans for their running backs Sunday in Chicago, and they are similar to the one they used against Tennessee.

Willie Parker will start and play two series, Rashard Mendenhall will play the third series, and they will rotate that way. Mewelde Moore will continue to play in passing downs.

"Anytime Willie gets tired, he can come out," Arians said. "If we get into a very long no-huddle mode, Mewelde is the no-huddle guy and we'll rotate from there. In short yardage, goal line, whoever's in the game."

Timmons OK, Sweed out

Lawrence Timmons went through a full practice yesterday, even though he "tweaked" his sprained left ankle in practice Wednesday. It remains unknown whether he will play and how much if he does.

Limas Sweed did not practice at all yesterday, and it's likely he will not play. He left practice Wednesday with a mid-foot sprain. Veteran receiver Shaun McDonald should dress in his place Sunday against the Bears.

For more on the Steelers, read the new blog, Ed Bouchette On the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com .


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