Minicamp notebook:

The Pittsburgh Steelers opened minicamp yesterday and Jim Wexell has plenty of information from the two practices.

PITTSBURGH – Last year at this time, the Steelers' best offensive lineman – who would be 31 after his contract expired – was livid that the team hadn't offered him a big-money extension.

Alan Faneca's gone now, but the current best lineman – who'll be 30 when his contract expires next year – isn't concerned at all about an extension.

"It's not anything I'm worried about," said left tackle Marvel Smith. "That's going to take care of itself. All I can do is go out there and play football. That's my only goal. If I get caught up thinking about that, then I ain't focused on what I need to be. If it's going to happen, it's going to happen."

Part of the reason for a lack of contract talks is Smith's health. The Steelers want to see whether Smith has fully recovered from a back problem that forced him to undergo surgery at the end of the season. Smith says he feels great.

"I can't even remember the last time I felt this good," he said. "It's something I know that's taken care of and I don't have to worry about it."

With Smith struggling with the bulging disk, there was some question whether his playing days were over. At one point Smith's left leg was numb and he finally left the first Jacksonville game and shut his season down. But the removal of the disk has ended any talk of premature retirement.

"I can play as long as I want to now," the big man said with a laugh.

TOP PICK CRITICAL

Steelers No. 1 draft pick Rashard Mendenhall isn't pleased with his old school these days. His older brother Walter was relieved of his scholarship by Illinois coach Ron Zook after the more talented Mendenhall left school following his junior season.

"It upset me," Mendenhall told Pittsburgh reporters at his press conference yesterday. "But to tell you the truth, the way things were there it didn't surprise me too much. They were just never in our favor there."

Rashard said his brother will finish up his playing career at Illinois State where he'll also study for his Master's degree.

As far as sharing time with Willie Parker, Mendenhall was much more upbeat.

"I was kind of nervous," he said of his first workout. "But in the running backs room with Willie, they're professionals. They're trying to help me as much as they can because the better I do, the better they're going to do."

Said Parker: "He's going to push me and he's going to save me carries in the game. Either way it's for the best."

PRACTICE NOTEBOOK

Undrafted free agent receiver Dorien Bryant from Purdue was released by the team after failing his physical. The Steelers haven't announced his replacement. … Ryan Clark started at free safety. He said he has no doubt he'll be ready for training camp after recovering from the removal of his spleen and gall bladder last season. … Both Gary Russell and Jon Dekker have added 10 pounds. … Hines Ward, Aaron Smith and Troy Polamalu remain sidelined while recovering from injuries suffered last season. Travis Kirschke started in place of Smith, Nate Washington replaced Ward, and Ty Carter replaced Polamalu. … New center Justin Hartwig alternated with Sean Mahan with the first team, and on defense last year's No. 1 pick Lawrence Timmons alternated with Larry Foote at inside linebacker. … According to one source, the undrafted free-agent rookies to watch are defensive lineman Martavius Prince of Southern Miss and linebacker Patrick Bailey of Duke.


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