Notebook: Smith Eyes Return

<b> PITTSBURGH - </b> The 120-game iron-man streak will come to an end for Dewayne Washington on Sunday, but the 10th-year veteran doesn't believe it'll mean an end to his playing days. "Maybe here," he said. "But I still feel like I can play this game. I don't question that at all. I've played the game for nine and a half years, and after eight weeks it's not like I can't play the game any more."

Washington, of course, was benched Tuesday by Steelers Coach Bill Cowher, who said his right cornerback was suffering from "a lack of confidence right now." Washington was pulled from the game last Sunday in the fourth quarter after missing a tackle during Darrell Jackson's 43-yard catch and run.

"The confidence thing, maybe somewhat," Washington said. "But I still want to stay in the lineup and keep it going."

Washington was told of the change by Cowher.

"It wasn't like a big lengthy conversation," Washington said. "He said what he had to say. When the head man speaks, there's obviously not too much you can say because they had their minds made up."

Has Washington lost a step?

"For me, that's tough," he said. "I really don't agree with it. I'm healthy, so I still feel I can run with people, and so it just comes down to making plays on the ball. For me, I still feel I can play this game at a high level for a few more years."

Washington said he'd be part of the Steelers' kickoff and punt coverage teams, and he has no problems with it.

Now, a seven-year starting streak that began with the Minnesota Vikings in 1996 might be another story. He's only missed two starts since the Vikings drafted him in 1994.

"Those streaks always come to an end one day, but the thing about it is I definitely feel good about that," Washington said. "I do feel bad I won't be in there fighting with the guys."

Only two Steelers missed practice Wednesday. Wide receiver Plaxico Burress (shoulder) is still expected to play Sunday, but Marvel Smith (pinched nerve) won't, even though Cowher reported Tuesday that his starting tackle should be able to play the following week.

"I hope so," said Smith. "I feel I've been able to get better each day. My strength is starting to come back to me."

Smith has missed all but three plays of the last five games, which, of course, coincides with the Steelers' five-game losing streak. The Steelers may be healthy in comparison with other teams, but the one injury they couldn't afford was to Smith, a vital cog since Wayne Gandy left the team short of tackles.

"I'm only one player," Smith said. "(There are) eleven other guys on the field at the same time so I can't say me being in there would make a big difference. I mean, the other guys have been in there and picked it up the best they could."

To replace Smith, the Steelers moved guard Alan Faneca to left tackle, and he's performed well. Would Smith like to return to right tackle, the position he played for three years with the Steelers?

"I wouldn't care," he said. "I just want to play football."

Former Pitt linebacker Gerald Hayes is one of four players listed as out by the Arizona Cardinals.

A third-round draft pick last April, Hayes has played in seven games and made four tackles before injuring his shoulder. He missed last week's game against Cincinnati and will miss Sunday's game at Heinz Field, as will kicker Bill Gramatica (back), wide receiver Jason McAddley (hamstring) and running back Emmitt Smith (shoulder).

Listed as questionable by the Cardinals is defensive tackle Derrick Ransom (ankle), and listed as probable is fullback James Hodgins (ankle).

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