Center Jeff Hartings missed a rain-shortened practice Tuesday afternoon, visiting noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews at his office in Birmingham, Ala. Andrews was the doctor who performed arthroscopic surgery on Hartings last December to repair cartilage damage in his right knee.
"Jeff went through practice (Monday) and it just didn't feel right," said
Cowher. "He had yet to see Dr. Andrews since the surgery. We talked
last night and he wants to put at ease any feelings he has and let Dr.
Andrews look at it.
"For his peace of mind we sent him down to see Dr. Andrews. We'll
find out the results of it and go from there."
The results of Andrews' tests may not be something the Steelers or
Hartings, who has already missed about half of the team's scheduled
practices at training camp, want to hear.
Among the options were continued rest, arthroscopic surgery, or
perhaps as a last resort, micro-fracture surgery that would leave him
sidelined for the entire season.
Micro-fracture surgery entails drilling holes into the bone in an effort to
regenerate cartilage. Tight end Mark Bruener underwent the procedure
last season and seems to have made a full recovery. But others -
including Arizona defensive end Eric Swann and Carolina receiver
Patrick Jeffers - have never fully recovered from the surgery and have
not played again in the NFL after undergoing it.
"We probably feel a little like (Hartings) does right now," said Cowher of
the situation, "a little unsure."
The loss of Hartings for the season would be a major blow to the
Steelers' offensive line. Marvel Smith is moving from the right tackle to
left to replace Wayne Gandy, who left as a free agent. Oliver Ross and
Todd Fordham are vying for the right tackle position vacated by Smith's
move. And right guard Kendall Simmons just returned to practice this
week after missing the first two weeks of training camp while dealing
with diabetes, a disease he learned he had acquired just a few days
before camp began.
Only Pro Bowl left guard Alan Faneca has been unaffected.
When training camp began, the 30-year-old Hartings admitted the knee
had bothered him during the off-season and he had began thinking
about retirement if it continued to be a problem.
"If my knee feels good, then I'll be able to play pretty long," said
Hartings, who is signed through 2006. "If people keep falling on it, or if
it continues to deteriorate, then obviously you retire earlier than when
you expected or wanted to."
Hartings first injured the knee in the season opener last year at New
England when a player fell on it. He then tore cartilage in the knee Oct.
21 against Indianapolis, missing the next two games. He then injured
the knee again Nov. 17 at Tennessee and Andrews performed surgery
on the knee to repair the torn cartilage, forcing Hartings to miss two
Hartings said he felt fine during the off-season, but aggravated the injury
during a personal workout in May. He is scheduled to earn $3 million
this season and counts $4.228 million against the team's salary cap.
Making matters worse for the Steelers, backup center Chukky Okobi,
who started in Hartings' absence last season, suffered a sprained
ankle in Saturday's preseason loss at Detroit and has not practiced
That forced the Steelers to place Simmons at center - the only other
center in camp is rookie free agent Jimond Pugh - during practice
Tuesday. It was a move Simmons struggled with, botching several
snaps before heavy rains and lightning forced the practice to be cut
"Kendall was getting frustrated because of that," said Cowher. "It was
making his blood (sugar) go high."
Loss of Hartings could be major blow
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