PITTSBURGH -- Lance Moore practiced Monday and said "I felt better today than I've felt in a number of weeks," and therefore expects to play Sunday night at Carolina.
That's good news for Ben Roethlisberger, who, like any quarterback, relies on his slot receiver to get him out of jams, particularly on third downs.
"So much of inside slot receiver is about feel," said Roethlisberger. "It's less about speed and athleticism and more about feel for the game. So that's something he can help bring, and teach J.B. as he goes, too."
Second-year man Justin Brown filled in for the veteran Moore, who missed the first two games with a groin injury. Brown had his ups and downs -- four catches for 44 yards and a fumble -- but Moore is the wily ninth-year veteran who caught 346 passes for 4,281 yards and 38 touchdowns primarily as Drew Brees' slot receiver. But he hasn't shown much, yet, as Roethlisberger's slot man.
Moore played in all four preseason games, with one start, but didn't catch a pass, and he's been inactive so far this regular season. But he looked ready on Monday to get the season rolling.
"Felt good, man. It's been awhile," he said.
"If he goes this week it'll be big for us," said Roethlisberger.
OTHER CAM ON THE NOSE
Cam Thomas, like Moore a free-agent acquisition, has also struggled, but not because of injury.
"For me it's about pad level," said Thomas. "I'm 6-5 with a tall torso so I really have to work on staying low."
Is it something his position coach repeatedly hammers home?
"He doesn't have to say it. I see it," Thomas said. "Pad level. That's my main thing. Just pad level. Get better every day with pad level, and my hands."
On this day, with Steve McLendon out with a shoulder injury, Thomas moved inside to play nose tackle. But McLendon said, "That was just today. I'll be back to practice on Wednesday."
MARKUS THE RETURN MAN
It looks like he'll have a chance to improve on that average Sunday night at Carolina.
"Yeah, depending on how Dri does," Wheaton said. "He probably won't be out there that day."
Wheaton was previously tried on kickoff returns as a rookie in preseason last year, but didn't get a chance to return one. In college he returned four kickoffs for 81 yards as a sophomore, but got hurt and the coach felt he was too valuable for further duties.
Wheaton did return three punts for 68 yards in college, and when asked if he'll be returning punts in place of Archer, Wheaton said, "I hope so."
Does Wheaton feel comfortable returning kicks?
"I feel comfortable just being on the field," he said. "Last year, not so much. I think this year I'm just a lot more comfortable being out there. It's like college. It takes a year or so to get comfortable out on the field. I feel the same way now."
THE BIG HIT
Roethlisberger took a brutal hit to the chest from Courtney Upshaw on the third snap of Thursday's game. Roethlisberger's passer rating of 64.8 was his third worst since the end of the 2011 season, but he wouldn't say it had anything to do with the hit.
"It hurt. It definitely hurt," he said. "But that would be making an excuse and I'm not going to do that."
Was the hit worse than the hit Bart Scott laid on him in 2006?
"No," Roethlisberger said. "It's going to rank up there but it's still, I don't think, number one. Close."
"Bonus day, baby. We're off to a good start," was how Maurkice Pouncey described Monday's practice.
The Steelers, coming off a humbling loss to their rival, were clearly focused and enthusiastic, while their coaches were stern but positive.
"We did a good job," Pouncey said. "Everybody had a lot of energy."
The practice was run at a brisk pace, and on defense the communication level was loud, clear and consistent.
"I think it's what you would expect from a team that didn't fare so well the last time on the field," said Heath Miller. "You can't be happy or accepting of the way we played and there's only one way to change it and that's to get back on the practice field and work at it."
Was Miller happy with Mondayu's practice?
"I don't know. We'll see when we look at film," he said. "You can feel good running around out there fast and nobody's going the right way. So we'll take a look. The tape will tell the story."