Ward, Faneca and a surprise make Pro Bowl

<b>PITTSBURGH –</b> The players gathered around Coach Bill Cowher after Thursday's practice as he read the names of the Steelers headed to this season's Pro Bowl. Hines Ward received polite applause from his teammates. So did Alan Faneca. But the third Pro Bowler heard raucous cheering and was practically mobbed by his teammates.

"When Casey was recognized," said Cowher, "you could see the popularity. His teammates are very happy for him."

Casey Hampton, the Steelers' third-year nose tackle, was a surprise Pro Bowl selection. Ward and Faneca are now three-time selections.

"All the hard work I put into going out and getting better each and every day is starting to pay off for me," said Ward. "I seem to just keep getting better and better as the years go on. I seem to amaze myself."

"You work so hard to get to that first one, or that first year of recognition," said Faneca. "To try and maintain that level and improve is a year-in and year-out task."

The starting lineups were to have been released last night, and Ward and Faneca were expected to be among the group. Ward leads the AFC with 87 receptions, which have gone for 1,058 yards and 9 touchdowns. Faneca started at left guard for the AFC the last two years and is arguably the best guard in football. Hampton, though, was expected to be named a reserve.

"I'm really surprised," Hampton said. "You know, being in the 3-4, other guys have great stats and things like that, so it is surprising."

In the 3-4 defense, linemen are generally expected to take on blockers to keep linebackers free to make plays. Hampton has 25 solo tackles, one sack and two tackles for loss, but voters overlooked the paltry stats and placed him on the AFC team along with tackles Richard Seymour and Marcus Stroud, who were also first-round picks with Hampton in the 2001 draft. Cowher was asked if Hampton is having his best season.

"It's hard to say," Cowher said. "It's been a very disappointing year as a team and I think he's the first one to recognize that. From his perspective, I know he's a very proud player. We've got two good runners coming in here these next two weeks and we kind of challenged him with that, but he's been a very consistent player and that's the thing you respect about him."

Arguably, Hampton is the third-best defensive lineman on his own team behind Aaron Smith and Kimo von Oelhoffen, but both of those players are ends. With two of last year's Pro Bowl tackles – Gary Walker and Tim Bowens – plagued by injuries this season, the door was open at tackle for Hampton, who came to training camp at 338 pounds (18 over his listed weight) and couldn't finish the fitness test.

"He's come a long way from the run test," Cowher said. "Now I might make him run all the way over to Hawaii."

The only other Steelers defensive lineman selected to a Pro Bowl during the Cowher era was nose tackle Joel Steed in 1998.

Faneca is the only Steelers Pro Bowl lineman since center Dermontti Dawson retired. Dawson was named to seven consecutive Pro Bowls from 1993-99.

"If there's anyone I ever tried to emulate or look up to as a player on any level since I was a little kid on up, it was him," said Faneca. "I saw what he was doing. That was the right person to follow and learn from, Dermontti."

Cowher, though, compared Faneca to four-time Pro Bowl safety Carnell Lake because Faneca agreed to switch positions this season. The left guard has started seven games at left tackle this season because of an injury to Marvel Smith.

"You can put him anywhere, just like Carnell Lake," Cowher said. "(Faneca)'s a very unselfish player and it's great to see players like that not just be recognized within our team but recognized again by his peers and the people he competes against around the league."

Ward is the first three-time Steelers Pro Bowl receiver since John Stallworth made the Pro Bowl a third and final time in 1985. Lynn Swann was also named to three Pro Bowls, but Ward is the only Steelers receiver to be so honored three consecutive seasons.

"I couldn't have done it without Tommy (Maddox)," he said of his quarterback. "He's been coming to me in certain situations and I've been making some plays for him. I also couldn't have done it without Plax (Burress). Plax takes a lot of pressure off myself. With his height advantage, teams try to take him away and leave me one-on-one, which is fine with me. But me going to the Pro Bowl is a reflection of those guys because I couldn't have done it without Plax nor Tommy. Those guys made it all possible."

Steelers named as Pro Bowl alternates were kick returner Antwaan Randle El and inside linebacker Kendrell Bell. Dante Hall and linebackers Zach Thomas and Ray Lewis are on the team ahead of the respective Steelers alternates.

NOTES – Running back Jerome Bettis (knee) and reserve center Chukky Okobi (back) missed Thursday's practice, and defensive end von Oelhoffen (trapezius) left practice. All are expected to play Sunday against the San Diego Chargers, who upgraded starting left tackle Damion McIntosh (ankle), reserve guard Kris Dielman (hamstring) and reserve tight end Justin Peelle (concussion) to probable Thursday.

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