Notebook: Improvements made during bye

<b>PITTSBURGH – </b>The Steelers returned from their weekend off with a rare Monday practice as they prepare to host the St. Louis Rams in the franchise's 1,000th game on Sunday. The 2-4 Steelers entered the bye week a game-and-a-half behind the Baltimore Ravens and a game behind the Cleveland Browns, but both teams lost Sunday, bringing the Steelers a half-game closer to each.

"That just goes to show, man, it's a long season," said Steelers defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen. "It just reiterates the fact for me that I knew we shouldn't have panicked. It's a marathon. This was just the first leg."

The Steelers probably couldn't have played worse football throughout their first six games, but remain in the hunt thanks to a weak AFC North Division. Von Oelhoffen was asked if the team needed its spirits rejuvenated during the time off.

"That's a hard question," he said. "I always knew and believed in us so it really wasn't a rejuvenation. I think it was more a chance to go back and correct some things we were doing wrong, technique-wise. It was a chance to get back to the basics. We had four days of being able to walk through specific plays that hurt us in the six games. We were able to adjust to what people are trying to do that beat us so if it does happen again we can overcome that. That's kind of all it was.

"I think as a team we're always physical. We're always tough. But I learned three or four new things this week because we had a chance to work on them. The linebackers and us got on the same page. We were able to walk through with the linebackers because we had more time. That's the big thing."

So how does he gauge the pulse of the team?

"I don't think anything's changed," von Oelhoffen said. "It was a great day on the field. That's probably the only difference. It was sharp, crisp, a lot of hitting going on."

INJURY PREVIEW
Steelers Coach Bill Cowher will provide specific injury information at his weekly press conference this afternoon, but left tackle Marvel Smith (shoulder) and tight end Jay Riemersma (shoulder) both missed the bulk of Monday's practice.

Smith, who has missed all but three plays of the last three games with a pinched nerve, practiced last week and suited up Monday, but didn't scrimmage. His fill-in during the team's previous game was All-Pro left guard Alan Faneca, and the scenario would likely repeat itself if Smith can't play Sunday.

"I'm doing everything they've asked me to do but it's still hurting," said Smith. "It's gotten better but not enough."

When asked if he'd be able to play Sunday, Smith would only say, "It's up to the coach." St. Louis Rams Coach Mike Martz announced Monday that running back Marshall Faulk, who was scheduled to return this week after missing three games with a broken left hand and torn cartilage in his right knee, will likely miss Sunday's game.

"There's always that chance we could have him on an if-need basis, but I'd like to avoid that if at all possible," Martz told reporters in St. Louis. "I suspect we'll have him ready to go next week and that's what we're kind of aiming at."

Faulk's replacement, Lamar Gordon, suffered a high ankle sprain in Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers and was replaced by undrafted rookie free agent Arlen Harris, who didn't even play his senior season at Hofstra due to academic reasons. Harris gained 85 yards on 18 carries against the Packers and scored a touchdown.

Strong safety Adam Archuleta also missed the Rams' last game with a sprained ankle. During the game, weakside linebacker Tommy Polley suffered a dislocated elbow, cornerback Travis Fisher strained his groin and right tackle Kyle Turley suffered a concussion.

QUOTABLE
Plaxico Burress on the division race: "As bad as it looks, when you look at it that way, it really doesn't look that bad."

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