PITTSBURGH (AP) -Wide receiver Hines Ward's sprained right knee doesn't hurt as badly as it did last week and he is confident of playing Sunday in the Steelers' important game against Seattle.
Or maybe not.
Ward was optimistic one minute, cautious the next Wednesday while self-debating his status for the Steelers' only game in the next two weeks. Their only bye week of the season follows their first game against Seattle (3-1) since the Super Bowl in February 2006.
While Ward feels much better than last week, when he missed a game for only the fourth time in 10 NFL seasons, he underwent an MRI exam Wednesday to make certain there are no previously undisclosed problems.
``It's day to day, still,'' Ward said. ``It's not 100 percent or anything like that. But I think I'm close. I think our policy is that if I can go out there and practice on Friday you go from there. So far, so good. I'm way ahead of schedule.''
Ward didn't practice, but did work on a stair-climbing machine to keep his legs in shape.
``I'm really going to try to make it this week,'' said Ward, whose 657 catches in his career are a team record. ``I just want to see how far along we are. I've felt good so far. ... I'm two weeks ahead of schedule.''
Also not practicing were nose tackle Casey Hampton (thigh), linebacker Clint Kriewaldt (illness), cornerback Bryant McFadden (ankle) and safety Troy Polamalu (abdomen).
Hampton and Polamalu couldn't finish the Steelers' 21-14 loss Sunday at Arizona, but coach Mike Tomlin said they should be fine and he didn't list them Tuesday on his injury report.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger skipped some drills, but only to avoid possibly having a bruised foot stepped upon. He expects to take part in all drills Thursday.
Ward's absence adversely affected the Steelers' passing game in their first loss in five games dating to last season. Ward's replacement, Nate Washington, made only two catches for 18 yards and misread a pass route when Roethlisberger when under pressure, a key mistake Tomlin cited after the game.
Ward understands what he means to the Steelers, and Roethlisberger joked he's asking Ward every 15 minutes how he is. But, with a chance to rest another week after this one, Ward doesn't want to rush back and risk a more serious injury.
``It's just a bad sprain, and with sprains you never know,'' Ward said. ``You kind of have to be safe. I'm kind of in a dilemma. Do you risk going out there not at 100 percent, knowing that after the bye week you've got three divisional games, which are very important? For me, I'm going to do all I can to play.''

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