Bye week hasn't healed Steelers

PITTSBURGH – The thinking coming out of the bye week was that the Steelers would be healthy for Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals. But ...

... with Willie Parker and Marvel Smith missing another practice, and Casey Hampton again limited, full health is nothing more than a pipe dream.

"But that's probably always going to be the case," Coach Mike Tomlin said with a chuckle. "Hamp worked some today in a limited capacity. Felt pretty good. We'll see how he feels in the morning. Other than that, some of the other guys we had targeted for coming back are back: Brett Keisel, Nick Eason. We experienced some injuries in Jacksonville that were new and that we're dealing with, like Dallas Baker, like Keyaron Fox. That's just the nature of the game."

According to Tomlin, Parker, the team's primary ballcarrier, "made it through Monday's practice fine," but Parker felt pain in his left knee on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the pain worsened and he's missed two practices.

"Right now he's day to day," Tomlin said. "Still hopeful towards Sunday, but maybe not as hopeful as we were earlier in the week."

If Parker can't play, the Steelers will once again start Mewelde Moore, with Gary Russell the main backup and Najeh Davenport the kickoff returner.

Smith, the left tackle, missed his second practice with back pain. Trai Essex and Max Starks have alternated at left tackle this week. Tomlin reiterated that Starks would start if Smith can't play.

"He's looked good, but we all know there's a big difference between practice and Sunday at 1 o'clock," Tomlin said of Starks. "He's working well and communicating well with the other men."

On a positive note, kicker Jeff Reed (calf) practiced Thursday "and he kicked well," Tomlin said. "It's one of the injury situations we've been pleasantly surprised by this week. It looks like he's going to be fine."

Tomlin said that Reed will handle kickoffs Sunday as well.

The Steelers' opponent on Sunday is also experiencing unexpected injury problems. Missing a second practice for the Bengals this week were WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh, leading tackler Dhani Jones (foot), LT Levi Jones, CBs Johnathan Joseph and Jamar Fletcher, RB Chris Perry, WR/KR Glenn Holt and TE Ben Utecht. QB Carson Palmer has been ruled out of the game.

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