Notebook: Steelers rally around Pro Bowler

PITTSBURGH – The most popular teammate of the Pittsburgh Steelers? That would be the big happy guy in the middle of the cheering huddle getting all the pats on the back.

That would be Casey Hampton, who was named to the Pro Bowl yesterday as an injury replacement.

As has been his style when bestowing honors over the years, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher called the team together after Friday's practice and announced that the popular Hampton had been named to the Pro Bowl.

The team responded enthusiastically for Hampton, who replaced Richard Seymour. The defensive lineman from the New England Patriots pulled out of the Pro Bowl to rest an injured knee that troubled him throughout the second half of the season.

Hampton will play in his second Pro Bowl. He played in the Pro Bowl after the 2003 season. Hampton was injured last season.

"I knew there was a chance because Richard Seymour didn't play last year," said Hampton, who'd been named a first alternate last month. "Yes, I am very happy."

So are his teammates, who voted Hampton co-MVP of the team this season.

PRO BOWL O-LINE

Across from Hampton in the Super Bowl will be another player who was named to the Pro Bowl this week as an alternate: Seattle center Robbie Tobeck.

Tobeck became the third Seahawks' offensive lineman named to the Pro Bowl this season. The center will join left guard Steve Hutchinson and left tackle Walter Jones in Honolulu the week after the championship game.

"They have a strong left side," said Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. "It's the side everyone talks about, but, really, they have a very good right side, too. This will be the best offensive line we've faced all year. They're very good, and they have a very good back behind them."

Seattle's starting offensive line combined to make 518 regular-season starts this season to rank first in the NFL. The Steelers were second with 404 combined starts.

The rest of the Seahawks' line includes right guard Chris Gray and right tackle Sean Locklear, who running back Shaun Alexander said was "so underrated it's unbelievable."

The Seahawks' offensive line has faced a 3-4 defensive alignment only one time this year, and the Seahawks edged the Dallas Cowboys, 13-10. It was the Seahawks' lowest offensive output of the season.

"The best thing about the 3-4 defense," Alexander told Seattle reporters, "is it changes your angles. It's something that you don't practice (against) every day. It's something you don't prepare for every day. It's something that you are just not used to seeing every day. Angles, blitzes, all those pick-ups, they change. You don't have the time to practice like you do with a 4-3."

Running behind that line, Alexander led the NFL with 1,880 rushing yards (5.1 avg.) and scored an NFL record 28 touchdowns.

PRACTICE REPORT

Willie Parker returned to practice Friday for the Steelers after missing Thursday's practice. Fullback Dan Kreider took Parker's place on the sideline with a sore knee. Missing his second practice of the week was defensive lineman Travis Kirschke, who has a groin injury.

The Steelers will hold a light practice Saturday, take Sunday off and leave for Detroit on Monday. The Steelers elected to take the field Tuesday at 8 a.m. for media day.

QUOTABLE

Alan Faneca on whether the Steelers have a swagger or just a quiet confidence:

"I'd say it's like a swagger on game day, but during the week it's a quiet confidence; we're just going about business and doing things. If you go out there to practice, you see guys are still working and know we need to get better. We're not sitting on where we are. We're trying to improve."

Joey Porter on when the Steelers began playing their best football:

"It started when we played Chicago. That was the start of everything. They came in as the No. l defense. They said we couldn't do this or that against them. They were on an eight or nine-game win streak and we handled them pretty good. Then we went to Minnesota and handled business, then Cleveland, and so on and so on. We just took it one week at a time."


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