Townsend ready to return

<b>PITTSBURGH –</b> His fingers covered in so much tape he more closely resembles an Egyptian mummy than an NFL cornerback, the Steelers' Deshea Townsend doesn't look like a player who will be in the starting lineup when the Steelers open the playoffs Jan. 15. <br><br> But don't tell Townsend that.

"If you practice, you play," said Townsend, who returned to practice last week after breaking his hand in the Steelers' 20-7 victory Dec. 26 against Baltimore. "And I'm practicing, so I'm going to play. The doctors say I'm ahead of schedule, so I don't think there will be any problems."

Considering Townsend has three broken bones in his right hand that required 13 pins and several screws to help it set correctly, that's saying something.

Townsend said he broke one of the bones in his hand trying to strip the ball from a Ravens receiver. That's when he first noticed he was in pain. But team doctors found that he apparently had broken two other bones in the hand earlier in the game and had not realized it.

That says a little something about his ability to handle pain.

"Practice is the hard part. When you're out there playing in the game, you don't feel as much," said Townsend, a seven-year veteran who finally became a full-time starter this season. "The game is the easy part."

Townsend's return for the first playoff game would certainly give the Steelers plenty of options. In addition to getting Townsend back, cornerback Chad Scott, who opened the season starting opposite Townsend at left cornerback, returned for the regular-season finale at Buffalo. Scott had been out of action since Oct. 17, when he suffered a leg injury in a victory at Dallas.

Veteran cornerback Willie Williams started 10 games in Scott's place and played well. But Scott started the regular-season finale at Buffalo at right cornerback in place of Townsend and likely will serve as the third cornerback when the playoffs open. On passing downs, Townsend would move inside to cover a slot receiver, allowing Scott to line up outside.

"That's what I've done all season, so that won't be a problem," said Townsend, who had a career-high four interceptions with four sacks and 14 pass defenses.

The Steelers' slot cornerbacks are asked to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage more often than the outside corners – something that could affect Townsend, who will wear a light cast to protect his broken hand.

"But you can only grab the receiver for the first five yards, anyway, so I don't think it will be that big of a deal," Townsend said, adding with a laugh, "I can knock the receiver out with my cast, too."

The return of both Scott and Townsend could mean less playing time for promising rookie cornerback Ricardo Colclough. Colclough had 1 1/2 sacks in a 29-24 victory Sunday at Buffalo and has played well. He'll likely still play when the team goes to a dime defense, which employs six defensive backs, but not in the nickel defense, which only uses five.

"It's good that Chad's back," said Colclough. "We can use all of the good players we can get once the playoffs come. I've got no problem with whatever role the team wants for me."


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