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Steelers

Noetbook: Bruener out the season - again

Jerry DiPaola
| Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2002

For the third time in the past four years, Steelers tight end Mark Bruener's season is ending prematurely.

The decision was made Tuesday when Bruener had a micro-fracture surgical procedure to repair cartilage and bone damage in his right knee. The Steelers' ortrhopedic physician Dr. James Bradley performed the operation, and Bruener was immediately put on the injured reserve list.

Bruener injured the knee in the fourth quarter Sunday in Jacksonville. It was initially considered a sprain, but further arthroscopic testing revealed more serious problems.

"There was more damage around the joint and bone itself," coach Bill Cowher said.

In typical micro-fracture procedures, doctors puncture a tiny hole in the surface of the bone to allow bleeding and facilitate the healing process.

Cowher said he doesn't believe that Bruener's injury is career-threatening, but he noted there is a six-month rehabilitation period after such surgeries.

"We would like to think it will be a full recovery in six months," Cowher said.

Bruener, 30, is in his eighth season since the Steelers made him their first-round draft choice in 1995. He suffered a season-ending shoulder injury Nov. 18, 2001, and missed the final nine games of the season, including the playoffs. A foot sprain ended his season two games from the finish in 1999.

Primarily a run blocker, Bruener had 13 receptions for 66 yards and one touchdown this season.

The Steelers signed tight end Matt Cushing to take Bruener's place on the roster, but No. 1 backup Jerame Tuman will assume the starting job. Tuman, who started seven games in place of Bruener last year, has two catches for 45 yards and a touchdown this season and nine for 141 and two scores in his career.

Cushing has been on and off the Steelers' roster several times in the past four seasons, and had been released twice this season on Sept. 24 and Nov. 5.

"Cushing is back again for the 28th time," Cowher said.

Until three weeks ago, the Steelers had no one on injured reserve. In the past three weeks, kicker Todd Peterson (cracked ribs), linebacker John Fiala (knee) and Bruener have been placed on IR.

FURTHER INJURY UPDATE

Cowher listed running back Jerome Bettis as questionable, but it has more to do with his broken nose than his knee injury. Cowher said Bettis' knee didn't get worse Sunday after he ran for 86 yards on 20 carries against the Jacksonville Jaguars, his second-best yardage output of the season. Bettis played most of the game with the broken nose.

Center Jeff Hartings (knee) and offensive right tackle Marvel Smith (elbow) also are questionable, but Cowher said Hartings is "on his way back" and Smith is "on the upper side of 50-50." Hartings has missed four of the past six games.

Five players are probable: cornerback Chidi Iwuoma (knee), wide receiver Hines Ward (hamstring), running back Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala (pectoral muscle), safety Mike Logan (groin) and guard Kendall Simmons (knee).

REED'S LEG

Kicker Jeff Reed has hit nine of 10 field-goal attempts in two games, including a team-record-tying six against the Jaguars. Cowher said Reed has "as strong a leg as I've been around."

Reed was signed two weeks ago after a tryout at Heinz Field on a cold, rainy Tuesday afternoon. "I remember catching balls, watching them kick and thinking, 'What the heck am I doing on this field?' " Cowher said. "There were four guys down there and I found a guy down there. I will go down every Tuesday if I find players like that."

Asked how much faith he has in Reed, Cowher said, "A lot right now. Guys can get into a zone and I would like to think he's in one. He has made nine of 10 and the one he missed you can see his foot slip."

Cowher said he is willing to order a field goal, if necessary, after the offense reaches the 35-yard line. "The longest one I saw him kick was from 56 yards and it hit the net (above the goal post in the team's indoor practice facility). That thing would have been good from 66 yards. It was really kicked."

Reed is one of five finalists for the Pepsi NFL rookie of the week award.

The others are running backs Tony Fisher of the Green Bay Packers and Clinton Portis of the Denver Broncos and safeties Chad Williams of the Baltimore Ravens and Roy Williams of the Dallas Cowboys. Fans can vote on NFL.com through this afternoon.

WHERE WAS THE WHISTLE?

Cowher spoke to NFL director of officiating Mike Pereira about officials disallowing a fumble by Jaguars running back Fred Taylor that was recovered by the Steelers' Joey Porter. Officials ruled that the play was stopped before Taylor lost the ball, even though there was no whistle.

"You don't have to have a whistle, based on what I was told by Mike Pereira," Cowher said. "They made a judgement call. Do I agree with the judgement• No.

"I believe that the back was still fighting for extra yardage and if the back broke the tackle they would have let him run. Does that give the back the best of both worlds• Yes. I think (the officials) just froze. Sometimes, that happens."

Officials are trying to avoid inadvertent whistles, and sometimes they are blown late or not at all. "We have told our players," Cowher said, "to (hold onto the ball) because of the late whistle. I will hold our runners accountable if they have the ball stripped in the same situation."

A WARNING?

Remembering that Houston Texans kicker Kris Browns left the Steelers, in part, because he didn't like the playing surface at Heinz Field, Cowher said, "I know it has not changed since last year."

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