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Steelers' Stapleton sure he will return soon

Starting right guard Darnell Stapleton said he is optimistic he will return to practice before the start of the regular season.

"There's no doubt in my mind I'll be back to play this season," Stapleton said.

Stapleton has been sidelined for most of camp because of an injury to his right knee, and he had arthroscopic surgery on it almost two weeks ago. Stapleton, who started the final 15 games at right guard last season, said there isn't any structural damage to his knee. The 6-foot-3, 305-pounder added that the injury is similar to one he had in his left knee two years ago during the preseason when he missed three to four weeks of practice.

"I just had some loose bodies in there floating around that was causing it to (swell) and restricting my motion so I had to go get it cleaned out," Stapleton said of his right knee. "Hopefully in a week or so, I'll be back out there."

When he does return, Stapleton could find himself battling Trai Essex for the starting job at right guard.

"We'll see," Stapleton said. "My main issue right now is getting healthy."

A hard day's work

Isaac Redman got all seven carries in the goal-line drill at the end of practice yesterday, and the rookie running back got into the end zone five times from the 1-yard line. Three of those scores cames against the first-team goal-line defense.

The Steelers had planned to divvy up the carries among Redman, Carey Davis and Justin Vincent. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told offensive coordinator Bruce Arians to keep Redman in for the entire drill so he could work on his conditioning.

It's not that Redman, who signed with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent, is out of shape, Tomlin said. But first-year running backs generally aren't as in football condition compared to veterans, Tomlin said, and fatigue leads to sloppy play.

"You saw Rashard (Mendenhall) going through it last year in the preseason," Tomlin said. "When they get an extended number of carries, sometimes they lose ball security, some of the detail in their work."

Making his mark

Rookie cornerback Joe Burnett's interception in Thursday's preseason win over the Cardinals was exactly what he had hoped.

"You want to be a playmaker," said Burnett, a fifth-round pick out of the University of Central Florida. "That's my mentality — to come in and be a playmaker early on, to set myself away from the other guys."

Burnett returned the interception 42 yards to the 3-yard line. When asked how close he was to getting into the end zone, Burnett said: "I was real close. If I could take it back, I probably would have dove."

Injury update

Kraig Urbik did not practice yesterday because of a scratch on his cornea, Tomlin said, and the Steelers had to keep the rookie guard out of the sunlight.

"We need to protect him for 24 hours," Tomlin said.

Strong safety Troy Polamalu did not finish practice yesterday because of tightness in his calf. Defensive end Travis Kirschke sustained an ankle injury. Tomlin said he did not know how serious the injury is.

Among those who didn't practice yesterday were running back Mewelde Moore (hamstring) and wide receivers Brandon Williams (abdomen) and Tyler Grisham (hamstring).

Inside the Ropes

A daily look at the best parts of the Steelers' training camp in Latrobe:

HAMPTON MOVING BETTER: A year ago, nose tackle Casey Hampton was just returning to action after missing the first week of practice because of conditioning issues. This year, Hampton looks like a different player. He's moving quickly to the ball and pursuing plays down the line of scrimmage. One play against Arizona in the preseason opener highlights just how far Hampton has come. He teamed with linebacker James Harrison to track down running back Tim Hightower on a pass play. Harrison was credited with the tackle, but Hampton ran down the line and forced an apparent fumble that was overruled when it was determined that Hightower's knee had touched the ground.

DEFENSIVE SUPPORT: Free safety Ryan Clark continued his banter with fans Sunday afternoon, imploring them to cheer for the defense. It has been Clark's contention during training camp that fans cheer more for the offense, so he's taken it upon himself to drum up more support for the defense. So far, Steeler Nation has enjoyed its give-and-take with Clark, one of the team's most popular players.

HARD KNOCKS: Yesterday's punt return drills featured some hard hitting. Linebacker Patrick Bailey and fullback Carey Davis were both sent flying on separate plays. Davis, who was knocked down by rookie running back Isaac Redman on a forceful block, applauded Redman's effort.

TIMMONS TO THE RESCUE: Known for being a playmaker, linebacker Lawrence Timmons showed why again yesterday when he made a sharp break on Charlie Batch's pass to tight end Heath Miller and came up with a spectacular interception.

LITTLE MAN: Listed at 5-foot-7 in the Steelers media guide, free-agent Stefan Logan crouches so low on punt returns that he can literally run under the arms of potential tacklers who are much taller.

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