Tuesday, August 8, 2006

By BOB LABRIOLA
Steelers.com

LATROBE, Pa. – Competitive. Enthusiastic. Resilient.

Those are some of the characteristics that made the Steelers the NFL's winningest team over the past two seasons, characteristics that will have them entering the 2006 season as the defending Super Bowl champions.

The Steelers are here working to become that kind of team again, and during Tuesday's practice, they showcased each of those things.

Teams that are resilient enough to overcome injuries are the ones that ultimately compete for the championship every year, and the Steelers tasted their first bit of real adversity today.

Chukky Okobi, the veteran backup center, was diagnosed with a possible herniated disc in his neck, and Coach Bill Cowher said the injury could threaten Okobi's 2006 season as well as his football career.

"We received some bad news. Chukky may have a herniated disc in his neck, and it could be very significant," said Cowher. "He could be having surgery, maybe as early as (Wednesday). It does not look good."

Okobi missed some practice time during the first week of training camp with a neck injury that wasn't believed to be that serious at the time. He returned to the field, but the situation didn't really get better.

"Last week, we kept him out of some of the contact, and then he came back. It's hard to say if it was any one hit," said Cowher. "He started feeling some pain going down his arm. We had him checked out, and I got the bad news just now."

If Okobi is out for the season, the primary backup to Jeff Hartings at center would appear to be sixth-round draft choice Marvin Philip. Can the rookie handle it?

"He's going to have to," said Cowher. "That's where we are."

The competitive and enthusiastic parts of this Steelers team came out at the end of the day's practice, during the one-minute drill. Instead of using the respective first teams, Cowher sent a lot of the backups who'll be involved in the latter stages of Saturday's preseason opener out onto the field.

Shane Boyd was the first quarterback to get a chance, and like all inexperienced quarterbacks he did some good things but then he made a critical mistake.

Boyd completed passes to Quincy Morgan and Cedric Humes, and then he converted a second-and-3 with a 12-yard strike to Nate Washington. But on a third-and-six, his pass for Willie Reid was intercepted by Mike Logan.

Then came Omar Jacobs. On a third-and-2, John Kuhn ran for 3 yards on a draw play, and a couple of plays later the offense was on the defense's 36-yard line. That's when many of the first-team defensive players – Deshea Townsend, Aaron Smith, James Farrior, Brett Keisel and Clark Haggans to name several – started simulating crowd noise. Then, the fans lining the hills picked it up, and Omar Jacobs got a taste of playing on the road in the NFL. Jacobs' fourth-down pass was incomplete.

CAMP NOTES: The Steelers moved Lee Vickers back to defensive end after giving him a taste of outside linebacker for the past several days. Also, Willie Colon continued to work at both tackle positions. He started out on the right side and has been trying the left side for the past couple of days.

"Lee Vickers, we moved him back to defensive line today," said Cowher. "We're going to get him ready to play. We felt he was a lot like Brett Keisel – if he's able to make this team, he can maybe play some outside linebacker, and now he has some base to work from. I think he's got a lot of upside.

"Willie Colon, you don't have the luxury in this business of having a guy who isn't going to start unable to play more than one position. We moved him to both tackle spots to see if he can swing, and he seems fine."

NIGHT PRACTICE ALERT: The Steelers will practice on Wednesday, Aug. 9 at 6 p.m. at St. Vincent College. It is the final night practice of this camp, and it's the only practice open to the public that day.

INJURY UPDATE: "Hines Ward (hamstyring) is coming along cautiously," said Cowher. "There haven't been any setbacks. He wants to get out there, kind of chomping at the bit a little bit. I think Joey Porter will be out here in pads (Wednesday)." Porter first would have to be removed from the physically unable to perform list and added to the active roster.
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