Steelers veterans such as Ward rest, giving youngsters needed reps

LATROBE, Pa. -- Wide receiver Hines Ward didn't appear at the Pittsburgh Steelers' Tuesday afternoon practice until he started doing sprints with running back Willie Parker midway through the two-hour workout.

Four days into training camp, Ward has practiced once. He said he's not injured, although he had offseason shoulder surgery.

Ward said he's taking CTO -- coach's time off.

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Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is giving several experienced Steelers, including Ward and safety Troy Polamalu, considerable rest early in camp following the team's Super Bowl run. Polamalu reported to camp with a sore hamstring, and Parker didn't practice because of a shoulder problem.

"I can't knock what coach Tomlin is doing," Ward said. "He's a proven coach, he's won the Super Bowl. Yeah, it looks a little strange, me not out there and people wondering, but it's his team."

Tomlin's explanation for Ward's extended summer vacation?

"Hines has money in my emotional bank account, so I take care of Hines," said Tomlin, who had Ward sit out every midweek practice last season.

Ward, the Steelers' career record-holder for receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches, probably doesn't need a lot of work to prepare for his 12th NFL season. But he needs some, if only to get back into rhythm with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

The Steelers are relatively thin at wide receiver, with second-year pro Limas Sweed and rookie Mike Wallace the main backups to Ward and Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes. Tomlin wants the other receivers spending lots of time with Roethlisberger and backup quarterbacks Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon.

"The last two or three days, we've gotten a majority of the playbook in, and it's a great opportunity for Limas to get in there in full pads and get some rapport with Ben and the system," Ward said. "We are thin. If Santonio or myself goes down, we've got to have guys step in and play."

With former No. 3 receiver Nate Washington now a Tennessee Titan, the Steelers need Sweed -- a second-round draft pick in 2008 -- to take on a bigger role. Sweed looked lost in the offense at times as a rookie and caught just six passes. He also dropped an apparent touchdown catch in the AFC Championship Game against the Baltimore Ravens.

"But from last year to this year, it's like night and day with Limas," Ward said. "It's important for him to get some reps, so I'm not going to sit there and argue with the coach."

Roethlisberger complained that his arm strength was missing early in camp, but that didn't appear to be a problem as he completed several deep passes Tuesday.

"He was throwing darts," Ward said.

Tomlin wasn't worried when Roethlisberger said his arm didn't feel right.

"He's our lead-dog guy, and we're going to ask him to throw a lot of balls," Tomlin said. "I would imagine through the initial phase (of practice), he wouldn't feel great. He launched a couple of deep ones today, and that's what we're expecting."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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