Offutt Field Report

<b>GREENSBURG –</b> An overflow crowd of approximately 10,000 broke an Offutt Field record Thursday night to see the Steelers practice at the downtown site, a week after fans packed Latrobe Stadium for a similar night practice.

The team has also received bigger crowds -- on a daily basis at St. Vincent College -- than they have in the past several years. Fan interest is up and Hines Ward knows why. The six-year veteran feels this is the best Steelers team he's been on.

"Because we have experience on this team now," Ward said. "Maybe two years ago, when we were 13-3, we were just living each day. Guys didn't know what to expect. We were just living on that high. But now with the expectations, and coming so close to two years straight, I think a lot of guys learned from their mistakes in those playoff games. We are an experienced team now. We've been together close-knitted for three years now. This is our year I think. I'm really enthusiastic about the upcoming season. I think it's going to be a good year."

Part of the enthusiasm is due to the play of quarterback Tommy Maddox. Last night may have been his best practice of training camp.

"I just think he's living the moment and he doesn't want the moment to end," Ward said. "He got a second chance to make an impression on the league and last year he did a tremendous job. I don't think it was a fluke because as players we've seen him make some of the same throws out here on the practice field. If he can stay healthy, and the line gives him some protection, I don't see why he shouldn't be able to go out and have a productive year in the passing game."

Aside from his precision passing Thursday night, Maddox also stepped in to break up a fight between nose guard Chris Hoke and right tackle Oliver Ross.

"He needs to stay out of there," said Coach Bill Cowher. "I think I'm going to talk to Tommy about that. He doesn't need to be getting his hands in there and getting hurt."


The Steelers ended practice with touchdowns on both goal-line series. The first team scored on a 4-yard run on fourth down by Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala, who'd been held to one yard on two previous carries.
On fourth-and-four, Maddox executed a reverse pivot and surprised the defense by handing off to Fuamatu-Ma'afala, who received key blocks from guard Keydrick Vincent and tight end Mark Bruner.

The second team also scored when Charlie Batch faked a hand-off and rolled right before throwing a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jay Riemersma on third down.


Running back Jerome Bettis was shaken up by a blow to the back of the head during practice.

"He'll be fine," said Cowher, who ruled running back Amos Zereoue out of Saturday's preseason game in Detroit because of a sprained ankle.

"It got stiff and swelled up a little bit," Cowher said. "He'll be back and ready to go next week."

Center Jeff Hartings also missed Thursday's practices.

"Jeff's getting better," Cowher said. "I haven't made a final decision but I'm leaning towards him not playing [Saturday]. His knee's feeling much better and he'll probably be ready to go next week."

Wide receiver Plaxico Burress fell on his shoulder two days ago and was in quite a bit of pain after the Thursday morning practice, but appeared healthy and had one of his better practices last night.


New punter Glenn Pakulak may be able to bench press 225 pounds 23 times, as he did at the Indianapolis combine in February (rookie linebacker Alonzo Jackson did 14 reps), but the wired-up rookie couldn't touch veteran Josh Miller last night. Miller was back to his old booming self and even hit one for 61 yards.


Cowher on the mental state of his team: "This is about it. We can only take so much of this camp at this point. We need to go play somebody right now. They're getting a little testy. They've been around each other so long. We need to go play somebody soon. The timing's right."

Jim Wexell

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