Wilson earning rave reviews

The Steelers are temporarily adjusting to life without Hines Ward, but the offense does not look the same without No. 86.

Updated: August 17, 2005, 11:25 AM ET
By Michael Smith | ESPN.com
LATROBE, Pa. -- Here are five observations on the Pittsburgh Steelers, based on their August 9-11 practices:

Bill Cowher "can only coach the players who are here," and Ben Roethlisberger has identified a positive amid the crisis: It's an opportunity for him to get more practice time with his less-familiar receivers. And that's all fine and dandy. But Hines Ward, currently boycotting training camp over a contract dispute, is one of the elite receivers in pro football and perhaps the most complete. There aren't many receivers around whose teammates respect and respond to him the way the Steelers do to Ward. "Moving forward" without him just isn't quite that simple.

After observing three Pittsburgh practices at St. Vincent's College, it remains no less difficult to imagine the Steelers' offense without No. 86. Keep in mind the Steelers allowed Roethlisberger's preferred target, Plaxico Burress, to depart via free agency in the offseason, and the running game already has taken a hit with Duce Staley set to miss a month or more after undergoing knee surgery.

Michael Smith

NFL Senior Writer
Michael Smith joined ESPN in July 2004 as a National Football League senior writer for ESPN.com, covering league news and major events such as the NFL Draft, NFL Playoffs and the Super Bowl, and continues to write breaking news stories. He is also a correspondent for E:60, ESPN's first multi-themed prime-time newsmagazine program, which debuted October 2007.