Pittsburgh Steeler Hines Ward keeps plugging along

| Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Summer — or at least the fun part of it — officially ended for Hines Ward on Monday.

From now until July 30, the Steelers' wide receiver will eat nothing but fish, broccoli and fruit. He will work out two times a day to acclimate his body to the grind of training camp. And Ward will log a considerable amount of time in his hyperbaric chamber, which promotes the flow of oxygen throughout the body.

"That's just been the formula I've had success with over the years," said Ward, who plans to report to camp at least five pounds lighter than his listed weight of 205 pounds.

"Every year, the older I get, I want to lose more weight, I want to look better. There's never been a problem with me coming into camp out of shape."

Such drive is a reason why Ward owns most of the Steelers' major receiving records — and why the 34-year-old has yet to make any concessions to age.

Ward's motivation is at least one thing coach Mike Tomlin doesn't have to worry about during the rest of what has been a Murphy's Law offseason for the Steelers.

It is a good thing, too, considering how heavily the Steelers may lean on Ward this season.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will miss at least the first four games because of a suspension. Wide receiver Santonio Holmes, who joined Ward in eclipsing the 1,000-yard receiving mark last season, is in New York following a trade with the Jets.

And the Steelers will be without arguably their top offensive lineman this season after right tackle Willie Colon tore his right Achilles tendon last week while working out.

The Steelers' offseason woes may have folks writing them off before the start of the season, but Ward said that may not be a bad thing.

"It seems like every year we won the Super Bowl, nobody gave us a chance to win the Super Bowl, and when everybody thought we were going to win it, we didn't make the playoffs," Ward said. "We don't buy into all that stuff. Every year we know we have a legitimate chance of making the playoffs. There's teams in the league that can't say that, can't say they have a legitimate chance of winning the Super Bowl. Every year, we have the core group of guys that can get it done."

Ward proved hard to pin down when asked how long he will be a part of that core group of players.

The 13-year veteran does not foresee playing beyond the three years left on his contract, though Ward said hasn't ruled it out either. He could walk away from the game after this season if the Steelers win a Super Bowl, or if the owners lock out the players and there is a protracted labor dispute.

"He'll probably play five more years, knowing Hines," ESPN NFL analyst Ron Jaworski said. "He's got such an incredible love for the game. He just reeks of a passion for the game."

Ward's presence at a recent NFL broadcast boot camp was at least a tacit admission that he will not play football forever. He provided another one during a break at the broadcast camp when Ward said he has started pondering his legacy.

Ward, who is approaching 12,000 yards on receptions, will go down as one of the Steelers' all-time greats.

But Ward knows that winning another Super Bowl could also put him in the rarefied air of John Stallworth and Lynn Swann, both Hall of Famers and owners of four Super Bowl rings.

As for how long he can continue playing at a high level before age compromises what speed he has left, Ward welcomes such questions.

"I understand that perception," said Ward, never a speed burner even when he made the Pro Bowl four consecutive years (2002-05). "That doesn't mean that I can't play football. People are so quick to bury us and put us in an old folks' home like we can't play. I still caught 95 balls (in 2009). How can you explain that• Next year if I only catch 40 balls then you have a legitimate story to write."

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