Notebook: No special favors for Ward

PITTSBURGH – Bill Cowher said "most of the starters" will play only a quarter Thursday night in the Steelers' preseason finale at Carolina (8 p.m. KDKA-TV).

Notice Cowher didn't say all of the starters. The one starter who's received less playing time than the rest is Hines Ward, who cut short a holdout in the hope of having his contract renegotiated this preseason.

Ward believes Cowher has pulled him from games early as a precaution against injury during the negotiations.

Cowher said yesterday he's had a different motive for pulling Ward.

"It is just getting some of the other people in the positions where they are going to be when he is playing," Cowher said. "That is the only thing. I don't concern myself with Hines as much as it is with getting people settled into their roles."

Those people would be Cedrick Wilson and Antwaan Randle El, who've had trouble clicking with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. In three games, Wilson and Randle El have caught a combined six passes for 67 yards.

"We are still trying to develop that tie, that rapport, that consistency," Cowher said. "It is just going to be a process. I like to think that it is going to get nothing but better. It will as we continue to work together."

As for Ward, who has three catches for 19 yards in two games, Cowher said: "He has worked very hard in practice. I think that Hines will be fine."

BIG TARGET

Roethlisberger has been uncharacteristically high with several passes this preseason. And Wilson and Randle El have yet to mesh with Roethlisberger in their new roles. And 6-foot-7 tight end Matt Kranchick has shown great hands and an uncanny ability to separate from defenders, but has trouble blocking in-line.

The solution to this set of problems might be to move Kranchick back to wide receiver, where he played early in his career at Penn State. Has it been considered?

"Nope," said offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. "As a tight end, with his size and speed, he creates mismatches with linebackers. If you put him outside, then he loses a little bit of that speed advantage because the guys out there are so much faster.

"There are a lot of tight ends who are good receivers whose blocking is not effective in-line. I think he understands he's got to improve that and he's working to do that."

"I'm a tight end," said Kranchick, who's caught three passes this preseason for 68 yards. "I've had some issues with some other stuff as far as blocking, but I've improved at tight end and that's where I'm going to play."

TIGHT COMPETITION

One of the closest competitions at camp is being waged at long-snapper by seven-year veteran Mike Schneck and undrafted rookie Greg Warren.

In Friday's game, Warren handled all but the second punt snap and the second field-goal snap.

"He's had it all three games," said Schneck. "Last year they did the same thing. Two years before that they did the same thing. They brought Greg in here to compete with me, so they're going to give him a look. What coach has told me in the past is he knows what I can do, what he's going to get out of me, and so they're going to give the kid a look.

"I don't know where it stands and I don't really concern myself with it because I can't do anything about it."

MORE CUTS

Yesterday the Steelers cut LB Arnold Harrison, DT Grant Bowman, DT Elliott Harris and FB Zach Tuiasosopo. The Steelers now have 71 players, including six NFL Europe exemptions, and must cut down to 53 by 6 p.m. Saturday.

RETURN GAME

Cowher said he's pulling Willie Parker out of the kick-return derby due to his status as probable opening-day halfback. That means Ike Taylor and Ricardo Colclough will return kickoffs Thursday night and most likely in the opener. Cowher said Randle El will return punts in the opener.

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