Sepulveda can prove value Sunday

The Steelers went back to work Wednesday in preparation for Sunday's game in Chicago. These were the highlights:

PITTSBURGH – Sunday could be the day punter Daniel Sepulveda shows he was worth a trade-up in the 2007 draft.

When Sepulveda trots out to do his job against the Chicago Bears, staring back at him from the other end of the field will be none other than Devin Hester.

Only 26, Hester already stands fourth in NFL history in combined career kick return touchdowns with 11. Two more will tie him with Brian Mitchell for the all-time lead.

Hester may have to do it as a punt returner, because the full-time duties he took on last season as a wide receiver have caused the Bears' coaching staff to lessen his kickoff return opportunities.

"Hang time is certainly going to be a priority," said Sepulveda, for whom the Steelers traded up in the fourth round of the 2007 draft. "But the guys have been such a good job. Greg (Warren) always puts the snap on the money and the guys have protected well. We've also got some young guys who are looking to prove themselves as coverage men and this is a great opportunity."

It's a great opportunity – and a scary one for the Steelers, who've taken rookies Mike Wallace and Keenan Lewis off gunner duty and replaced them with cornerbacks Keiwan Ratliff and Joe Burnett, a fifth-round draft pick.

Wallace had trouble getting off the line in the opener against Tennessee and Lewis injured his hamstring and was replaced in the second half by Stefan Logan. Sepulveda, though, punted with such hang time and direction that the Titans averaged only 3.5 yards per return.

Hester, meanwhile, was held in check – 7.5 yards per punt return – by the Green Bay Packers. His career punt return average is 12.0 with seven touchdowns in three-plus seasons. He's also returned four kickoffs for touchdowns and returned his only one 26 yards against the Packers.

"I think I'm directional kicking better now than I have my whole career," Sepulveda said. "It's certainly going to be a point of emphasis this week because we're playing against a guy who, if you don't get the job done, will make you pay for it."

Sepulveda said he's never intentionally kicked out of bounds in fear of a return man, but said that "this is a guy where that's certainly an option, and it's not a bad move when you look at the alternative. That'll certainly be in the bag of tricks we take to Chicago."

TIMMONS A QUESTION MARK

Lawrence Timmons missed the opener with a sprained right ankle, and he participated on a limited basis Wednesday, leaving his status up in the air for Sunday.

Timmons would be an important piece for the Steelers, who are already missing strong safety Troy Polamalu, a player who's strong and quick enough to cover an elite tight end such as Greg Olsen of the Bears. Timmons has similar skills. In fact, nose tackle Casey Hampton called Timmons 1-A to Polamalu's 1 in terms of closing speed on defense. But Hampton did joke about Timmons's understanding of the defense.

"With Timmons," said Hampton, "when he's closing like that, he's made a mistake and he's just trying to get to his guy."

Also missing Wednesday's practice was Polamalu's replacement at strong safety, Tyrone Carter, who was excused for personal reasons. Wide receiver Limas Sweed left practice with a mid-foot sprain.

PRESSURE UP FRONT

The Titans worried so much about limiting pressure from the Steelers' linebackers that they forgot about Hampton. The big nose tackle was credited with three hurries of quarterback Kerry Collins.

"I wasn't even blocked a couple times, so they don't count," said Hampton.

Brett Keisel, who led the Steelers with four QB pressures, credited Hampton's morning routine on the treadmill.

"(I'm) trying to get right," Hampton said. "(I'm) working on my closing speed."


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