Notebook: Staley practices without pain

PITTSBURGH – Duce Staley practiced without pain for the first time this season and thereby increased his chance for playing time Monday night in San Diego.

"It's starting to come back a little bit," said Staley. "It's been awhile. Being out there today, being able to run around and not really feel anything, it's definitely a good feeling."

Staley, though, is in the dark about his role, if any, for the Steelers, who have four healthy backs from which to choose.

Coach Bill Cowher, of course, would like to keep the Chargers guessing and may not make a decision until game time; not that it bothers Staley.

"With the style of offense we run, as far as running the ball all the time, we need a lot of backs," he said. "So being able to get back in the mix, get my feet wet, I'm just happy to have that opportunity."

Staley tore meniscus cartilage the first practice of training camp and underwent surgery that week. He returned before the second game but wasn't activated. He played in the third game against the New England Patriots, but only took the field as a decoy for a handful of plays.

Staley said he's added weight from weightlifting, and from inactivity, and admitted he'll need to become better conditioned before he can perform at a high level. Staley also said he could serve as the team's third-down back -- as he did at times when he was with the Philadelphia Eagles -- but doesn't see that role in his immediate future.

"Verron (Haynes) has been so good there, I don't know why you'd want to take him out," Staley said. "But if he ever needs a blow, or needs me to come in on third down, I will."

HAGGANS: BLESSING IN DISGUISE

Clark Haggans called the groin injury that'll keep him out of action for at least a month "a blessing in disguise."

The Steelers' left outside linebacker suffered the injury late in the game against the Patriots and underwent surgery during the bye week.

"I thought it was a cramp but the diagnosis they did in the locker room after the game turned out to be something worse," he said. "I decided to have surgery, so I'll bounce back in a few weeks and I won't have to deal with any of these groin problems any more."

Haggans injured his groin last year, but played through the pain.

"It was chronically bothering me," he said. "After awhile you just deal with the pain. I'm fine and I know they repaired everything, so everything should be brand new when I get a chance to get back out on the field."

Haggans is the team's co-leader in sacks with three. He also has 16 tackles and three forced fumbles, and the 28-year-old appeared to be on the verge of his best season.

"It was the third game, and I know the injuries are a part of football, and so it's unfortunate it happened for me this way," he said. "But I guess it was a blessing in disguise."

INJURY REPORT

Players only need to miss a portion of practice to be listed on the league's official injury report. That's why Joey Porter made Wednesday's list, even though he did practice. Porter also expressed surprise yesterday that he was listed as questionable for the game with a knee injury.

Also missing practice yesterday were James Farrior (back) and Hines Ward (hamstring), although both are adamant they'll play Monday night.

CALLING ALL OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

At his press conference Tuesday, Cowher said the first back-up outside linebacker is rookie Andre Frazier, followed by rookie Rian Wallace. But Wallace said Wednesday that he's "just supposed to be watching outside linebacker from the sideline … but right now I'm still an inside guy."

Wallace said it's too early for him to be learning two positions.

"They want me to be comfortable at one," said the back-up inside mack backer.

Cowher also said defensive end Brett Keisel will serve as a back up to James Harrison and Porter outside, but Keisel said, "I didn't work (Wednesday), but coach said I'll get some work this week. I'll be ready."

How?

"Because I know everything. We get mental reps."

Could he handle outside backer in the base defense?

"Yeah. It'd be coach's call. He'd be like ‘OK, with Keisel, he'll have to play the run or rush. We don't want him guarding someone.'"

Clint Kriewaldt, another back-up inside linebacker, was supposed to have the ability to play both inside and outside. That's what the team said when they signed him as a free agent in 2003. But Kriewaldt hasn't taken a rep outside either.

"They must not be impressed by my pass-rush ability, or lack thereof," he said with a laugh. "If worse came to worse, they'd move James Farrior outside and put me in the middle."

Now, there's someone who's making a bit of sense.

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