Steelers Notebook: Punter to Miss Time

Josh Miller admitted at minicamp he was eagerly awaiting the new season after missing the final month of the 2002-03 season with a shoulder injury. But another injury will knock the Steelers' punter out of the first two weeks of training camp.

Miller injured the meniscus cartilage in his right leg, his plant leg, while working out two weeks ago. He and center Jeff Hartings, in a precautionary measure, are the only players scheduled to miss the run test to open camp at St. Vincent College on Saturday.

"Josh has undergone a knee scope," said Coach Bill Cowher. "I don't anticipate it being anything that'll hold him out for a long period of time. He will probably start the camp on PUP (Physically Unable to Perform list). Based on talking to (trainer) John (Norwig), he's progressed very well and should be back kicking before we get out of camp."

Miller "felt something kind of pop," according to Cowher, who believes the punter will miss "two weeks at the most before he's out there able to work. It's probably not bad from his standpoint. I've got a feeling he's kind of coming in trying to re-prove himself."

Those were Miller's sentiments at minicamp, where he was working to overcome a left shoulder injury that forced him to miss the final two games of the regular season and the playoffs last season.

"Anytime you go out and have a season that's very sub-par for you, people may ask if he's old or has he lost it or is he healed, so I have a lot to prove," Miller said at minicamp. "I don't like just picking up a paycheck. I like earning it. I still want to be one of the top punters in the league and that's why this off-season really wasn't an off-season. The only difference was we didn't have any games. Every week I prepared as if we were kicking for the weekend and I'm just going to pick up pretty much where I left off two years ago. I think I've worked out really hard. My kicking's better; my leg's stronger."

Miller injured his shoulder in the second week last season and learned the joint was arthritic and that bone was rubbing on bone. He couldn't ignore the pain any longer and underwent surgery in December.

"Whatever that was, it did not allow me to punt the way I normally can," he said after finishing with a net average of 33.1 yards per punt, a career low. Miller entered last season with a net average of 36.4 yards per punt.

Replacing Miller throughout the first two weeks will be undrafted rookie free agent Mike Hayes, who last punted competitively for the University of Akron in 1998. Hayes was recommended to the Steelers by Dallas Cowboys kicking coach Steve Hoffman, who's unearthed Lin Elliott, Chris Boniol, Richie Cunningham, John Jett and Toby Gowin, among others. Hayes averaged 42.2 yards per punt as a three-year starter in college.

As for Hartings, Cowher stressed his absence Saturday shouldn't be overemphasized.

"He had the knee last year," Cowher said. "We're just holding him back as a precautionary standpoint. He's been running this same test since he was at Penn State, so he's been doing this a lot of years. I'm not worried about Jeff Hartings. He'll practice on Sunday."

The Steelers' first camp practice will be Sunday at 1 p.m.


The Steelers have three unsigned rookies, but Cowher expects top pick Troy Polamalu, second pick Alonzo Jackson and fifth-round pick Brian St. Pierre to be in camp on time.

"A lot can happen in the next few days," Cowher said. "First-round picks seem to wait until the last few weeks to get started talking. We've talked and some parameters have been discussed so we'll see what happens in the next four days. Alonzo and Brian St. Pierre are the other two players who have not signed. Again, I'm optimistic that they'll be there at camp by Friday at 6 o'clock."

With an 82-man roster, the Steelers have NFL Europe exemptions in Jabari Issa and Dave Costa. The signing of Issa forced the release of rookie free agent Roy Attieh.


... the start of camp: "I'm not sure I'm ready to make a third-down call but if we're down three and a minute to go, and it's a basketball game, I could coach 'em up right now. I've watched more basketball in the last month with my three daughters. I've been in more gyms this spring. I'm kind of looking forward to football. I'm basketball-ed out."

... the division: "This is going to be a tough division. Marvin Lewis will have a tremendous impact down in Cincinnati and they've got some talent down there. Cleveland is going to be a much more confident football team after having gone through last year what they went through to make the playoffs. To be in the position they were against us, they'll have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder against us anyway. So they'll be very competitive. And Baltimore, with Ray Lewis coming back, with what they've done, they're a Super Bowl-caliber football team."

... on the possibility of moving training camp: "I tried to change the sideline one time and almost got fired over it. You think I'm going to move us from St. Vincent? I'm not going to touch that one. It's a great place to be."

Jim Wexell

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