PITTSBURGH (AP) -Steelers running back Willie Parker will return to practice Wednesday, and coach Mike Tomlin is optimistic Parker will play Sunday against the San Diego Chargers.
Parker has played only once since spraining his knee Sept. 21 in Philadelphia, running for 70 yards in a Monday night win over the Washington Redskins on Nov. 3 in which he dislocated his shoulder.
``The shoulder popped out briefly during the course of the Redskins game and it popped back into place,'' Tomlin said, denying reports that Parker had a torn labrum. ``Adrenaline or what have you didn't allow him to recognize it during the course of game. He came in (last) Tuesday, took a look at it and of course it was very painful.''
Parker was leading the NFL in rushing last season before breaking his leg during the next-to-last regular season game in St. Louis. He has 333 yards and four touchdowns on 87 carries this season.
eelers' rushing offense has struggled in recent weeks, totaling only 214 yards on the ground the past three games.
The return of left tackle Marvel Smith could help the running game. Smith hasn't played since Oct. 5 because of a back injury, but Tomlin said it's possible he will practice this week. Smith had a favorable workout Tuesday, Tomlin said.
``He's missed some time. Not only in terms of health, but technically he's got to be up to speed,'' Tomlin said. ``He's got to knock the rust off quickly if he's going to play for us this weekend.''
Max Starks has been starting at left tackle, protecting Ben Roethlisberger's blind side. Roethlisberger has thrown eight interceptions during his past 10 quarters of play and has been bothered by an injured throwing shoulder.
Tomlin characterized Roethlisberger's condition as ``status quo'' but said he was likely to practice this week. Roethlisberger was severely limited in practice last week and threw three interceptions in a loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
Tomlin indicated that Roethlisberger would have to practice more this week if he's going to play, pointing out timing and cohesion issues in the Colts game.
``It's important that you practice and get physical reps,'' Tomlin said. ``One of the things we've been dealing with in regards to his situation is a little short-term misery, if you will.''
ccountability for the defeat and hinted that the blame for the interceptions could also fall partly on intended receiver Santonio Holmes. But the coach did not completely absolve his quarterback, who has thrown more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (10) this season.
``It wasn't a winning performance,'' Tomlin said. ``That's the reality of it. We've got to take care of the football, and we didn't do it. They had interceptions and we didn't.''
Elsewhere on the injury front, the team signed veteran cornerback Fernando Bryant on Monday because Bryant McFadden (broken forearm) and Deshea Townsend (ankle) will not play. Bryant is a former first-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars who played the past four seasons in Detroit.
Linebacker LaMarr Woodley, fifth in the league in sacks with 9 1/2, should be able to practice this week after missing the Indianapolis game with a calf injury, but tight end Heath Miller (ankle) was ``questionable at best'' for this week, Tomlin said.

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