Inside Slant

Larry Foote's self-forced exit from Pittsburgh is a rare instance in which a Steelers player asked to be traded or released so he could pursue his career elsewhere.

Players rarely leave the Steelers unless the Steelers no longer want them. Sometimes, they go kicking and screaming, such as Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca last year.

"I'm just speaking from my knowledge of being around here and that is this is a great place to be," said defensive end Brett Keisel, who could find himself in the Faneca boat next year. "You have great owners who care about you, a great family atmosphere here in the locker room ,so it's a great place for a player like myself who was drafted here."

Keisel has one year left on his contract and wants to sign an extension before the 2009 season, as do many of his teammate in the same spot.

"From my standpoint, if guys have an opportunity to sign before their final year, it's kind of job security," said tight end Heath Miller, who also has one year left on his deal. "Football is such an unpredictable sport in some respects. Guys can have a career-ending injury or season-ending injury, so I think job security is something that's valuable in this sport.

"And in my case, certainly when you play for an organization like this, I can't see myself wanting to go anywhere else. I definitely hope it ends up good."

Players do leave as free agents, often, including cornerback Bryant McFadden, tackle Marvel Smith and wide receiver Nate Washington this year. But the Steelers made no moves to sign any of them.

Faneca raised a fuss in 2007, when he entered the final year of his contract, but never could come to terms. Hines Ward held out at the beginning of training camp in 2005 when a contract extension was not done. He could have become a free agent in 2006 but did not want to. James Harrison wanted his new contract this year and did not want to wait to become free in 2010.

"It's guys just being comfortable with the situation they're in and the teams they're with," explained linebacker James Farrior, who signed as a free agent with the Steelers from the Jets in 2002. "It's hard going to a new team, and you have to learn everything over again. It's like being a rookie all over again."

OFFSEASON STANDOUT: Outside linebacker Bruce Davis looked vastly improved after a disappointing rookie season. The 2008 third-round pick got outplayed by undrafted rookie Patrick Bailey, who went on to become a special teams force. But Davis showed signs that he is beginning to get more comfortable in his transition from defensive end at UCLA. Remember, Joey Porter, Clark Haggans, Jason Gildon, Mike Vrabel and LaMarr Woodley all struggled in their first year after transition from end.

LINEUP WATCH: Fifth-round 2008 pick Dennis Dixon has impressed the coaching staff this offseason and could make a strong push to unseat Charlie Batch as Ben Roethlisberger's primary backup. Dixon can also potential run a form of the Wildcat offense if coordinator Bruce Arians incorporates it. If so, there's a good chance Dixon will be the active No. 2 quarterback on game days.

ROOKIE IMPRESSIONS: The Steelers are counting on first-round pick Ziggy Hood to step in and provide some relief for starting defensive ends Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith, who are both in their 30s. Hood could be a starter as soon as 2010 if he picks up the intricacies of the 3-4.

Third-round wide receiver Mike Wallace could also compete for early playing time if 2008 rookie Limas Sweed continues to falter in his attempt to lock up the No. 3 spot.

INJURY WATCH: FS Ryan Clark is expected to be ready in time for training camp after sitting out spring practices following shoulder surgery. Punter Daniel Sepulveda appears to be on track to handle the punting duties in 2009. He missed all of last season with a torn ACL, then had spring surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right plant leg. But the release of Dirk Johnson in mid-June indicates Sepulveda is making a strong recover.

Contract to watch: The Steelers got offensive tackle Max Starks signed to a long-term deal that saved some salary cap room, leaving Hood and guard Kraig Urbik (second round) as the only potential contract issues heading into training camp.


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