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Holmes, Polamalu among missing as champs open voluntary camp

PITTSBURGH -- Super Bowl champions don't get much of an offseason.

Only 2½ months after the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals for the franchise's sixth NFL title, the Steelers -- at least most of them -- were back on the practice field Monday. Rain chased them indoors for the first of 14 organized team practices that run periodically through early June and are a supplement to next week's mandatory three-day minicamp.

After winning their second Super Bowl in four seasons, wide receiver Hines Ward said the Steelers don't need to be pushed and prodded to return to practice.

Apparently not. All-Pro linebacker James Harrison was working out again only two days after the Steelers' thrilling 27-23 win over the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. Wide receiver Limas Sweed was talked out of doing conditioning work later that same week, but he waited only two weeks before resuming his personal workouts.

The Steelers are being driven by two factors, according to Ward: 1) A determination not to repeat the major letdown of their post-Super Bowl 2006 season, when they started 2-6 and finished 8-8, and 2) A desire to match the three Super Bowls won in recent history by New England, and perhaps even the four won by the Steelers of the 1970s.

"I know I want to win another one," Ward said. "The teams in the 1970s, they won four. If we can win another one, then I think we'll be right up there with New England as one of the teams in the dynasty."

Nose tackle Casey Hampton believes one more Super Bowl victory would cause these Steelers to be remembered as one of the best teams in NFL history.

While they've changed coaches, from Bill Cowher to Mike Tomlin, since winning Super Bowl XL, many of the key players (Ward, Hampton, Ben Roethlisberger, Willie Parker, Heath Miller, James Farrior, Troy Polamalu, Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel, Larry Foote and Deshea Townsend) are the same.

"Especially with the same core of guys, it's kind of like the same team," Hampton said. "We're trying to catch the old Steelers, back in the day, see if we can get us four, see what that would be like."

Since the Steelers won four times during the 1974-79 seasons and the 49ers won four from 1981-89 (plus a fifth in 1994), the only teams to win three Super Bowls are the Cowboys (1992-93, 1995) and the Patriots (2001, 2003-04).

Hampton said the Steelers got "lax ... forgot how we got there" after winning three years ago, but Ward promised that won't happen again.

"We've been through that. The veteran guys who were on that first Super Bowl we won a couple of years ago, we came back with a disappointing 8-8 year," Ward said. "I think there's a different mindset coming into this. We've got a lot of veteran guys mixed in with a lot of new, unproven guys who have to step up their game. And coach Tomlin, he won't let us have a down year. His expectation levels are very high, and they should be."

Intentionally or not, management is allowing a number of players -- among them Ward, Hampton, Foote, Miller, Parker, Keisel, safety Ryan Clark and kicker Jeff Reed -- to go into the final season of their contracts. Only All-Pro linebacker James Harrison, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and left guard Chris Kemoeatu have signed new contracts.

Some others could be re-signed by the end of training camp, but the franchise's philosophy has long been that playing for a new contract isn't necessarily a bad thing.

"We're not going to get as complacent as we got the last time," Hampton said.

The last time Ward was going into the last season of a contract, in 2005, he stayed out of training camp for two weeks before reporting. He signed a contract extension the week of the season opener.

Ward said he won't stay out this time. One reason is he is only 220 yards away from reaching the 10,000-yard receiving mark, a number reached by only 31 players in NFL history.

"I don't want to put on another uniform," the 33-yard-old Ward said. "I'm too late in the game (his career) to worry about it. You look at all the previous players who went on and played in other places. I learned a lot from Jerome (Bettis), what he did. I want to go down in Steelers history to be one of the better wideouts to wear the black and gold."

Among those missing Monday, some due to travel problems, were Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes, Polamalu, Parker, Clark, Foote, Timmons and safety Tyrone Carter. Ward did not practice because he is recovering from left rotator cuff surgery, but he was in uniform.

Working out were three players who missed all or most of last season -- punter Daniel Sepulveda (knee), backup quarterback Charlie Batch (broken collarbone) and running back Rashard Mendenhall (shoulder).

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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