Steelers Notebook: Hoke latest to join expanding injury list
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Another game, another injury for the Steelers. This one was not sustained by a starter, but it knocked out one of their most valuable backups.
The medial collateral ligament in Chris Hoke's right knee was sprained in the final minutes of the game Sunday and he will be lost for at least two weeks, maybe more.
It was the same type of injury to quarterback Byron Leftwich's left knee that kept him out from Sept. 2 until last week. Leftwich had a second-degree sprain while the degree of injury to Hoke is not known.
"It's unfortunate, but that's how it goes, man, that's our story this year," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "So somebody will step up and play, hopefully."
Hoke started the second game of the season for Casey Hampton, who was sidelined by a hamstring injury. He has been Hampton's able backup since 2004 and is their only other true nose tackle.
The Steelers played without starting right guard Trai Essex (ankle) and without quarterback Dennis Dixon, who started the first two games but had surgery Wednesday to repair a torn menicus. Hampton and tackle Max Starks returned to play after missing the second game with injuries.
The Steelers again rotated many players as they played for the second consecutive week in blistering heat and humidity. The temperature at kickoff was 90 degrees with a heat index of 100.
"We are kind of getting used to that," Tomlin said of all the players he used.
Backup offensive linemen, guard Ramon Foster and tackle Jonathan Scott, played extensively and Tomlin rotated all three halfbacks. On defense he substituted liberally on the line and linebackers.
Unlike the previous game in Tennessee, there were no reported cases of dehydration or cramping.
"It keeps us fresh," Starks said of the substitutions. "If defensive linemen can roll in every series, why can't offensive linemen?"
Starks believes the experience the backups have gained early in the season could help later.
"Injuries are inevitable and going to happen at some point," Starks said. "When you have guys who have played at one or two or multiple positions and have experience, especially this early in the year, it only adds depth to the offensive line."
Hines Ward added and subtracted from his own record book. He caught his 80th career touchdown pass, tying Jerome Bettis for No. 2 on the team's touchdown list. No. 1 belongs to Franco Harris, who scored 100.
He also ran his streak to 181 consecutive games in which he has caught a pass. That remains fifth on the all-time NFL list.
But Ward saw his career rushing yards -- most by a Steelers wide receiver -- pared from 430 to 428 when he lost 2 yards on what was ruled a lateral from Charlie Batch.
A week ago in Nashville, Tenn., the Steelers offense managed only seven first downs, but somehow kept the ball for 33 minutes, 40 seconds. Sunday against Tampa Bay, they got 17 first downs, but only kept the ball 26:54.
Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman, who is only 22 and in his second year, said he felt as though there was a difference in the game Sunday from some of the 13 losses the Buccaneers experienced last year.
"That loss does not feel like the losses we had last year against the Giants or the Jets. The Steelers, they didn't come in and really dominate us, but the scoreboard will tell you different."
The Jets beat them by 23 and the Giants by 24 last year, but somehow getting beat by 25 feels not so bad.
Only Deion Sanders (19) and Rod Woodson (17) have returned more interceptions for touchdowns than Tampa Bay's Ronde Barber (13).
The Steelers have won 22 of their past 26 games against NFC teams.
First Published September 27, 2010 12:00 am