Steelers Notebook: Ward doubtful for Sunday's game; Mahan will probably see action
Hines Ward shakes hands with the fans and volunteers from Home Depot, the non-profit organization KaBoom! and other community members who joined forces yesterday to build a playground in Spring Garden.
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Wide receiver Hines Ward is "doubtful" for Sunday's game against Arizona because of a sprained right knee, coach Mike Tomlin said yesterday.
Starting center Sean Mahan also has a sprained knee, but Tomlin said Mahan is more likely to play because he is a lineman, not a receiver. Mahan was fitted with a brace during the San Francisco game and did not miss a snap.
Rookie tight end Matt Spaeth, the only Steelers player with two touchdowns, is probable after missing last week's game with a deep thigh bruise.
Ward's knee was injured in the third quarter against the 49ers when it was hit by a helmet. Tomlin said he won't rule Ward out of the game against the Cardinals. The coach provided no other specifics on the two knee sprains.
"One guy plays wideout and he has to run at the top of his speed in playing space," Tomlin said. "The other guy is an interior lineman."
Ward has missed only three games in his 10-year career. He missed his first game in 2005 with a hamstring injury, ending a streak of games played at 116 and games started at 83. He missed two last December because of a hyperextended knee.
On Monday, he said he was "fine," as he walked into the Steelers' facility, but then walked out with a knee brace and on crutches.
If Mahan cannot play, rookie center Darnell Stapleton, who was undrafted, or starting right guard Kendall Simmons would replace him.
"More than anything, we don't want to rush to judging with regards to the status of Sean," Tomlin said. "We expect him to be fine."
Mahan might miss a day or two of practice.
If Ward does not play, Nate Washington would likely start at flanker for Ward, with Cedrick Wilson moving into the slot. Willie Reid also could dress for the first time as the No. 4 receiver.
Open or shut case
Arizona's 2-year-old University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale has a retractable roof.
The Steelers played the Houston Texans in a 1 p.m. kickoff Sept. 18, 2005, in their new stadium, which also has a retractable roof. The Texans wore white, made the Steelers wear black and kept their roof open to somehow try to gain an advantage in the heat. The Steelers won, 27-7.
Kickoff is 1 p.m. (PDT) in the desert Sunday.
"I would expect it to be hot, , so the roof will probably be open," Tomlin said.
Here's a tipoff that it won't be: The Cardinals will wear their usual home, red jerseys, which means the Steelers will dress in white. Also, the Cardinals usually keep their roof close during hot weather; in fact, they were criticized a few times last year when they closed it on cooler days.
Room to improve
It's unusual for a coach whose team won Sunday to go 3-0 to open a news conference with specific criticisms, but that's precisely what Tomlin did.
"We evaluated our performance and usually it is never as good as it appears on Sundays. That was the case," he said.
Cases in point:
The offensive line in the ground game. "We are running the ball effectively right now. But from assignment standpoint, we can do a better job up front. We pointed that out to the men and challenged them in that area. We have to do a better job of getting the correct hats on the correct hats in the running game. We are playing physical and we are getting after people, but we can be better in that area."
"Defensively... we can do a better job of communicating early in football games. We have to do a better job of containing the quarterback."
Imagine what the Steelers might do if they improve in those areas. Willie Parker leads the NFL with 368 yards rushing and their rushing offense is No. 1 in the league with a 198.3 average per game. Their defense ranks second overall, allowing 244.3 yards per game.Ward of the stats
First Published September 26, 2007 12:00 am