Steelers still have high hopes for Smith

| Monday, March 31, 2008

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- He started the year as a reclamation project. By the end of it, cornerback Ike Taylor had re-claimed the starting job he lost in 2006 and turned in a solid season.

Free safety Anthony Smith appears to be in a similar situation.

For all of the promise he had shown up until last December, Smith's 2007 season was, fairly or not, defined by an infamous guarantee he made and the decline of his play that followed.

While Ryan Clark is expected to enter offseason practices as the starting free safety, the Steelers have done anything but write off Smith, as coach Mike Tomlin reiterated Sunday.

"He's been a bright-eyed guy this offseason," Tomlin said. "I know that he can't wait to get out there and show people what he's capable of and help us win at the same time. To be quite honest with you, he's game for the challenge."

Smith didn't prove to be up to the challenge after he predicted the Steelers would beat the Patriots.

He was victimized on two long pass plays that resulted in touchdowns in the Steelers' 34-13 loss to New England, and the second-year pro never seemed to recover from the dose of humility he was force-fed by Tom Brady and Co.

He eventually lost the starting job (to Tyrone Carter) that he had assumed after Clark's season ended because of a prolonged illness.

Steelers defensive backs coach Ray Horton said Smith may have been overwhelmed by all of the coverage his guarantee generated before and after he made it.

"The next week (after the Patriots game), he didn't respond to all of the hype that went on," Horton said. "I think the biggest thing with him is he learned a lot. He grew up, I think, really with the media. He's still a young, talented guy that we have big hopes for."

A handful of other Steelers are trying to come back in a different sense.

Tomlin gave an update on some of the players that are battling back from injuries:

• Willie Parker, who broke his lower right leg in late December, is progressing well and is already doing some running, Tomlin said.

"We're very optimistic, as are our doctors and trainers," Tomlin said of the Pro Bowl running back. "He's getting better every day."

• Hines Ward, who had surgery following the season to repair a partial meniscus tear in his right knee, is also doing well, Tomlin said. The veteran wideout is expected to take part in voluntary workouts at the team's South Side facility today.

• Defensive end Aaron Smith, whose season ended last December because of a torn bicep, has been working out on a regular basis at the Steelers' complex.

"He's getting close to normal," Tomlin said.

• Left tackle Marvel Smith is expected to make a full recovery from the back problems that limited him to 12 games last season and required surgery.

"Marvel is a competitor," Tomlin said. "He's going to do what it takes to get back and be ready to play."

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