Notebook: Chukky gung-ho

<b> LATROBE –</b> Jeff Hartings missed a second consecutive day of practice with his sore left knee and Steelers Coach Bill Cowher listed him as questionable for Saturday's preseason opener at Detroit. <br><br> That leaves the door open for Chukky Okobi, a third-year center and former fifth-round draft pick who's being groomed to fill Hartings' shoes one day. Okobi feels that day may have come.

"I bring youth to the table," he said. "I just feel I'm a pretty good player. I'm as good as Jeff is. Jeff kind of has the upper hand because he's seen a lot more, has played against a lot different players than I have. Once I've been in the league eight years, I guess everything will be the same between us."

Okobi filled in for Hartings last year and made five starts. The Steelers won four of the five, losing only to the expansion Houston Texans with Okobi in the starting lineup.

"Hopefully we won't miss a beat," Okobi said. "We did all right last year without him so hopefully, if he has to miss a week or two, I can hit the ground running and keep this machine going."

Is Okobi ready?

"I think anyone and everyone should be ready because this is the most unpredictable sport in the world. Anything can happen. One day you wake up and you're on top of the world and the next day you could never play again. Regardless of the situation I always have to be ready."

Is Okobi itching to play?

"Oh, man, I've been itching to play since they called me on draft day, so of course I'm ready to go."

Okobi will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season, so a strong performance Saturday might open some eyes, as well as some pocketbooks.

"Every time you step on that field it's like a job interview," he said. "You never know what game or what year during your contract period is the one that makes a difference."

Amos Zereoue injured his left ankle on the last play of Tuesday's practice, but it's not believed to be serious.

Zereoue stopped to catch a short pass that was thrown behind him during a live scrimmage. He dove for the ball as defenders Chidi Iwuoma and Clark Haggans each batted it into the air. Zereoue was helped by trainers and then carted off the field. Cowher said the early prognosis is a lateral sprain.

"I think that's all he did was turn his ankle," Cowher said. "We'll see how he is [Wednesday]."

Zereoue missed two days of practice last week with a sore foot. He's competing with Jerome Bettis for the starting halfback job this season after leading the Steelers last season with 762 yards rushing.

"An injury like that, a guy diving for the ball, you just hope he'll be fine," said Bettis. "It's not super serious to the point it will be a long-term situation – I hope."

Fullback Wes Ours (ankle), cornerback Hank Poteat (shoulder) and quarterback Tim Levcik (knee) missed practice.

Kevin Colbert, the Steelers' director of football operations, will lead a contingent of ex-Lions back to Detroit for Saturday's preseason game.

Joining Colbert in the homecoming will be college scouting coordinator Ron Hughes, college scout Bruce McNorton, quarterback Charlie Batch, cornerback Chidi Iwuoma, linebacker Clint Kriewaldt and Hartings. The Steelers also have several players, such as Bettis, who were born and/or raised in the Detroit area.

"I think last year was a little bit more meaningful," said Batch, a former starting quarterback with the Lions. "A lot of the guys I played with there are no longer there. The only person is [President Matt] Millen and that's pretty much it.

"I'm sure it's always going to be a big deal to Ron and Kevin. Beating your old team, for all of us, is always nice. But then again, it's the first preseason game so you just want to play well."

The Steelers will hold two practices Wednesday, including a night practice at Offutt Field in Greensburg, which is open to the public. A 15-minute autograph session will be held before the 7 p.m. practice.

Jim Wexell

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