Notebook: Keeping an eye on Marvel

<b>PITTSBURGH -</b> Here are three snapshots of Steelers left tackle Marvel Smith taken during last week's stampede over the New England Patriots:

1.) Pass-blocking, Smith shoved Richard Seymour with his right hand over to his left shoulder, and then shoved Seymour again - with his right hand again.
2.) Letting his left arm hang in the fourth quarter as he appeared to allow a wave of pain to subside.
3.) Showing his anger after being taken out before the last play (not counting Victory Formation).
"Why wouldn't I be upset?" said Smith. "You don't never want to come out of the game."

However, the snapshots all add up to one very good reason why the Steelers would take him out of the game: The pinched nerve in his left shoulder, which forced him to miss most of last season, was possibly bothering him.

Smith was asked if his shoulder was still bothering him. He didn't deny it.

"I'm fine," he said. "You're going to be in pain playing football."

Smith isn't one to talk about his aches and pains. And football coaches certainly aren't going to talk about them for him. It affects the mind-over-matter psychology: If the player doesn't mind, it don't matter.

"He's been fine with it," said line coach Russ Grimm. "He hasn't missed any practices or games or plays. Knock on wood."


Rookie right tackle Max Starks was active last Sunday for the first time this season. He saw duty at the goal line, and then stepped in for Smith at left tackle for the last true play from scrimmage. Starks drove defensive end Richard Seymour eight yards off the ball and picked up strong safety Rodney Harrison while he was at it. The result was a 29-yard gain Jerome Bettis, his longest run in two years.

"It was a nice play," said Grimm, whose smile revealed more appreciation than his words did. "Nice play."

"Coaches aren't going to come out and praise you, but I felt positive about the play," said Starks, a massive 6-8, 338-pounder who slipped to the third round because he was considered a soft run blocker. That appears to be changing under Grimm's tutelage.

"It was just one regular play," Starks said. "But it was a confidence booster and definitely encourages me to go out and try to practice as hard as I can because you never know when you're going to have a chance to get in a game."

That he drove back a Pro Bowler wasn't lost on the rookie.

"It just so happened it was against Richard Seymour," Starks said proudly. "Playing against him, a Georgia Bulldog, and me being a Florida Gator, I kind of had personal feelings about that one. But he's a great guy. He was one of my hosts on my official visit to Georgia. So it was definitely cool to have that as my first block."

Did Seymour say anything?

"No. I think at that point, when they knew the game was over with, he was like, 'I'm done anyway.'"


The Steelers will have inside linebacker Kendrell Bell and back-up quarterback Tommy Maddox back, but the Philadelphia Eagles will counter with the return of halfback Brian Westbrook.

Westbrook leads the Eagles with 707 (458 rushing) total yards from scrimmage. He averages 5.1 yards per carry and 8.0 yards per catch. He missed last week's game against the Baltimore Ravens after cracking a rib the previous week against the Cleveland Browns.

On Friday, Eagles coach Andy Reid cleared Westbrook to play after he'd practiced on consecutive days.

"Of course, you don't get hit in practice, so we'll see," Westbrook told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Westbrook is not expected to wear extra padding since the injury is on a high rib.

The Eagles will be without kick returner J.R. Reed (25.5 average). He'll be replaced by rookie Dexter Wynn. Also, right guard Jermane Mayberry missed another practice Friday and could miss his second consecutive game. He'd be replaced by Steve Sciullo of nearby Shaler Area High and Marshall University.

Also listed as questionable for the Eagles are wide receiver Todd Pinkston (knee contusion) and right tackle Jon Runyan (groin), who's considered the best player on the Eagles' line.

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