Smith missed a game two Sundays ago because of a sprained left ankle, but he injured his right ankle Monday night near the end of the first half. He was replaced by Essex, who didn't allow last year's NFL sacks leader, Dwight Freeney, a piece of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
"It was definitely a confidence builder," said Essex, who'd replaced Smith in Baltimore for his first career playing time.
"I thought I played better the second game, especially since I was going against one of the best defensive ends in the NFL. I felt like I got better, and the coaches told me I got better, but there are still a lot of things I can improve on."
Essex was drafted in the third round last April out of Northwestern. He'll be matched up Sunday against Bengals defensive end Robert Geathers.
Also missing at least a portion of Wednesday's team practice were quarterback Charlie Batch (right hand), running back Jerome Bettis (knee) and linebacker Andre Frazier (hamstring).
Batch said his broken hand has healed enough to allow him to throw, but he took snaps yesterday for the first time since he was injured in Green Bay. Batch said he'll wait to see how the hand felt Thursday morning before attempting to practice. He's listed as doubtful for Sunday's game, as is Frazier.
Bettis is listed as probable, as are linebacker James Farrior (knee), Roethlisberger (right thumb), defensive ends Aaron Smith (back) and Kimo von Oelhoffen (knee), and cornerback Deshea Townsend (knee).
Roethlisberger didn't discuss his latest injury, but practiced and appeared to be fine. TV producers weren't so fine. On the last day of ratings sweeps, several extra reporters were assigned to cover the team Wednesday in order to unearth any new nuggets about Roethlisberger's health. When the quarterback declined to be interviewed, there was a hue and cry from the outsiders as beat reporters snickered with delight.
Against the Indianapolis Colts, Parker had 12 carries, while Bettis had six and Duce Staley had three. Parker led the way with a paltry 43 yards. Bettis was asked if the committee approach is hurting the backs' rhythm.
"It was a good thing," said Bettis, "and now people are saying it's a bad thing. It's like you can't win. It's a good idea to have all of us there, but now it's not such a good idea. Who knows? I don't care."
The Steelers added fullback John Kuhn to their practice squad to replace Noah Herron, who signed with the Green Bay Packers. Kuhn, from Shippensburg University, was with the Steelers in training camp.
Also, the Steelers re-signed tight end Matt Kranchick to their practice squad late last week.
Notebook: Smith out, Essex in
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