Notebook: Steelers talk with Hampton

PITTSBURGH – With the Hines Ward talks stalling, the Steelers have renewed contract negotiations with the rest of their potential 2006 free-agent crop.

The Steelers brought Casey Hampton in for a talk before last night's win over the Miami Dolphins, but Hampton's not the only one.

"We're talking to all of them," said director of football operations Kevin Colbert, who added the timing is merely a coincidence, that the Steelers have not stopped talking with Ward.

Colbert said it's that time of year for the Steelers to take a final attempt at signing next March's potential free agents.

The September 11 regular-season opener is three weeks from today and the Steelers do not negotiate with players during the regular season.

Along with Hampton, the upcoming free-agent crop includes Verron Haynes, Chris Hope, Brett Keisel, Lee Mays, Antwaan Randle El, Deshea Townsend, Jerame Tuman and Kimo von Oelhoffen.

The Steelers, of course, would like to retain Hampton, but considering the depth chart and the age of each player, Hope is the most important player of the potential free agents.

As late as Thursday, a source with the Steelers called Hope's demands "unreasonable." Colbert, though, wouldn't rule anyone out.

As for Ward, Colbert wouldn't admit to frustration with agent Eugene Parker, who's advising Ward, as well as Cedric Benson, the league's lone rookie holdout.

Ward returned to the Steelers last Monday and insisted he's not looking to make top-tier wide receiver money. The Steelers have been willing to play him "second-tier" money all along and feel they should be able to reach a quick agreement.

Ward expressed frustration about the impasse this week at St. Vincent College.

"Let's get it done," he said. "Let's sit down in a room, lock everybody up, don't come out until the deal is done. I don't see the harm in that. It takes one day."

If the Steelers are frustrated, Colbert didn't show it.

"We're still talking," he said with a smile. "Stay tuned."

EASY TO PLEASE

Ward played two series and caught one pass for three yards on third-and-4. Even though he came up a yard short of the sticks, fans cheered enthusiastically.

"The fans are the reason why I play the way I play," Ward said. "It's great just to be back. I missed it. I'm very appreciative to be out here competing and trying to help this team win ballgames."

Ward said the decision to leave the game in the middle of the second series was coach Bill Cowher's.

"It was short, but I got my feet wet a little bit," Ward said.

THIRD TIME A CHARM

Seven months ago, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger overthrew tight end Jerame Tuman and the pass was intercepted by Rodney Harrison for a crucial touchdown in the AFC Championship game.

In what appeared to be a duplicate play last night, Roethlisberger overthrew Tuman and the pass was intercepted by Reggie Howard. Undaunted, Roethlisberger went back to Tuman four plays later and the two connected for a 2-yard gain.

FAST WILLIE RISING

Willie Parker opened the season as the fourth-team tailback, but is already No. 2 -- with a bullet.

With Duce Staley out for the preseason with a knee injury, Jerome Bettis started the game, but was replaced by Parker instead of Verron Haynes. Parker responded with a 37-yard gain on his first carry. He finished with 58 yards on six carries in only one half of action. Roethlisberger was next with 14 yards rushing in the first half.

QUICK HITTERS

The Steelers' first-team offense has yet to generate a scoring drive in two preseason games. … Jeff Reed is riding a streak of 17 consecutive field goals into the season, two away from tying Gary Anderson's team record. Reed got a shank out of his system last night when he missed a 28-yard attempt on the Steelers' second series. Reed connected from 26 yards late in the first half. … When the Steelers want to rev up their home crowd, they play music from the rock band Stynx over the P.A. system. However, only 1,500 tickets have been sold for Monday's Stynx-Kansas concert at Heinz Field. … Undrafted rookie wide receiver Nate Washington continued his bid for a roster spot by catching a third-quarter pass from Charlie Batch at the 10-yard line and accelerating toward the goal line. Washington appeared to score, but was ruled down at the one without a challenge from Cowher. Haynes scored on the next play. … Roethlisberger had a passer rating of 29.0 last night. In two preseason games, he's completed 8 of 15 passes for 64 yards and an interception.

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