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Steelers notebook: Foote: NFL jealous of Steelers' success

| Friday, Dec. 28, 2012, 7:24 p.m.

Linebacker Larry Foote admits to being a conspiracy theorist, so it's only natural that he blames the NFL for the No. 1-ranked defense having nary a player selected for the Pro Bowl.

“I believe the NFL doesn't like us because we've been good for so long that people are jealous of us,” Foote said. “We've got the most Super Bowl rings, best organization and best fan base. So people just naturally hate us. I think (safety) Ryan Clark and (linebacker) Lawrence Timmons should be starting in the Pro Bowl.”

• Besides being without receiver Mike Wallace (hip/hamstring) against Cleveland on Sunday at Heinz Field, cornerback Curtis Brown (ankle), linebacker Marshall McFadden (abdomen) and tackle Mike Adams (ankle) also will sit out. Cornerback Keenan Lewis (knee), safety Troy Polamalu (not injury related) and guard David DeCastro (hamstring) are probable. All three practiced Friday.

• Linebacker James Harrison didn't back down from statements he made to ESPN last week about tackling players below the knee because of fines defensive players receive for blows to the head. “It's going to have to change because if a guy is running across the middle, and at the last second he ducks down and you make incidental helmet contact, it's on the defender not to make that contact,” Harrison said. “So the only way to avoid that is to tackle a guy lower.” Harrison said the rules on blows to the head haven't changed his style. “I don't think I'm less aggressive,” said Harrison, who has 60 tackles and five sacks.

• While his offense struggled during the second half of the season, offensive coordinator Todd Haley expects the kinks to be ironed out when the Steelers report to mini-camp next year. “There is no substitute for experience, and then it's about what you do with it,” he said.

• Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said his squad's biggest improvement was stopping the run, a weakness that cost the Steelers in early-season losses to Tennessee and Oakland. He added the biggest reason for the turnaround was veteran nose tackle Casey Hampton, whose performance made the Steelers fourth best against the run. “I think all those guys getting stronger, and some of the young guys that had to transition into new roles, they got stronger as we went along,” LeBeau said. “I'm very proud of this group for staying with it and fighting through a slower start than we wanted.”

• Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman and Rashard Mendenhall have one last audition for the starting job next year. Of course, that's assuming the Steelers and Mendenhall can work out a deal when his contract expires after Sunday's game against Cleveland. Some doubt was cast over the running backs corps when all three were benched after fumbling in the first matchup against Cleveland last month. “I appreciated it because it made me want to be perfect,” Dwyer said. “I wanted to redeem myself. I'm more cautious with the ball, but it didn't get into my head psychologically.” Mendenhall simply is looking to build on the progress he made against the Bengals last week, when he rushed for a game-high 50 yards.

• Lewis, who said his knee bother him for much of last week's game, practiced Friday but remains uncertain of his available because of a sore hip. “I don't know right now,” said Lewis, who leads the league with 28 passes defended. Lewis is driven to play by not getting a Pro Bowl invitation. Something he vows to change next season. “I promise you I'm going next year,” said Lewis, who is fourth on the team with 76 combined tackles but no interceptions. “I had a chance to sit back and get the feel of what it's like to be a starter. I'm ready to take my game to the next level.”

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