|Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press|
|Steelers WR Hines Ward didn't practice with the team Wednesday, but he plans to do so Thursday.|
Wearing a small black brace on his injured right knee, Ward did running and cutting on a side field as the Steelers practiced at the University of South Florida for Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals.
Even if Ward had been healthy, it's almost certain he wouldn't have practiced. Ward, 32, was held out of all Wednesday practices by Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin to keep him from wearing down during the long season.
"Hines is playing," Tomlin said. "I'm not worried about him."
The Steelers worked out without pads, and Tomlin began the 1-hour, 58-minute session with a shout of "Let's go to work, men." He later pronounced himself satisfied on what team observers said was the nicest outdoor practice day the team has had since October.
"It was a good start to our week," Tomlin said. "We practiced fast, and I thought we practiced aggressively. But it's like I say to the team after every Wednesday practice: It's a good start, but we've got to be better tomorrow."
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who had intermittent shoulder problems during the season, looked sharp and threw several tight long spirals, including one to Santonio Holmes through the wind. Running back Willie Parker, after fighting shoulder and knee problems during the season, ran fast and confidently. In fact, other than Ward, the Steelers have no health issues.
Ward, who strained a knee ligament during the first quarter of the AFC Championship Game 10 days ago, walked onto the practice field shortly after 1 p.m. and walked through some plays with the first-team offense just before practice began at 1:30. Then, at the start of practice, Ward jogged through a few pass routes with the regular offense before working out on his own for the next 55 minutes.
Ward caught balls from a machine. Then four cones were laid out in a 10-yard square, and Ward ran 10-yard incut routes at about half-speed and caught passes. Then he ran sideline-to-sideline at slightly better than half-speed before encasing the knee in ice for about 30 minutes.
NBC's television crew attended practice, as did former Steelers quarterback Mark Malone, who's part of the national radio crew for the game.
The Steelers will hold Thursday and Friday workouts at USF, then a short walk-through practice Saturday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.