By Tom James
INDIANAPOLIS — Tony Dungy is quite aware of Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward.
Dungy initially became aware of Ward while he was still the head coach at Tampa Bay and has followed his career with the Steelers with a lot of interest.
“He’s a tough guy. I remember when he came out of [the University of Georgia] and I was in Tampa. Our scouts really liked him, but we didn’t pass him on the physical. We thought he would never hold up [physically]. It’s just one of those things. I think a lot of people were in that same boat,” the Indianapolis coach recalled Thursday, looking ahead to Sunday’s game at Pittsburgh (4:15 p.m., CBS).
“He’d had some injuries [in college]. But he’s been a very productive guy. We had him in the Pro Bowl when we were over there in 2003. He’s very, very much a pleasure to coach and probably a guy that everybody would want on their team. A guy who’s productive, who blocks inside and outside. And [a player who] does all the things that help you win games. They used him when [former Steelers offensive coordinator Mike] Malarkey was there in that slash-type role, in at quarterback and throwing reverse passes. So he can do a lot to help you win.”
One area where Ward, who has a team-leading 34 catches this season for 445 yards and five touchdowns, particularly excels is as a run blacker. Opposing defensive backs and linebackers need to know where he is at all times for fear of being drilled from the blind side.
“He was perfect for Pittsburgh’s attack and the way they have been over the years since he’s been there. You’re not going to catch a lot of balls [in the Steelers’ offense]. It’s not going to be the type of offense where you catch 110 passes. But getting those running backs out on the perimeter, making blocks to win games. He was a perfect fit for them,” Dungy said.
“You know, as a defensive back, there are some receivers that aren’t going to block you. And there are some that will. [Ward] is in that category. So you know you’re going to get blocked on certain plays and you have to be ready for it.”
• Injury list — Offensive tackle Ryan Diem (ankle), cornerback Kelvin Hayden (hamstring), wide receiver Roy Hall (hamstring/knee) and safety Bob Sanders (rest) did not practice Thursday.
Defensive tackle Daniel Muir (hamstring) saw limited work. Defensive ends Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney, along with cornerback Tim Jennings and wide receiver Reggie Wayne all returned to practice after sitting out on Wednesday.
Weak side linebacker Friday Keiaho (knee) and cornerback Dante Hughes (ankle) practiced for their second straight day and are expected to be cleared to play against the Steelers on Sunday. Neither one were available for last week’s game with New England.
“[Hughes is] coming along and seems to be doing better in practice,” Dungy said. “If he’s [activated for Sunday], we’ll certainly get him in there. He very well could be, but we’ll see how he does [in practice].”
• Game balls — Wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez (offense), safety Bob Sanders (defense) and placekicker Adam Vinatieri (special teams] earned game balls for their efforts in Sunday night’s 18-15 win over New England.
Gonzalez hauled in four passes for 55 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Sanders, meanwhile, was unofficially credited with eight total tackles (six solo) and an interception and a pass deflection. Vinatieri booted a season-long 52-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to secure the win for the Colts.
Vinatieri has also been named as the AFC’s Special Teams Player of the Week.
• NFL Network to replay 2005 Colts-Steelers playoff game tonight — The NFL Network, as part of their NFL Classics Series, will air a replay of the 2005 AFC Divisional playoff game between Indianapolis and Pittsburgh today at 9 p.m.
The Steelers won the game 21-18 at the RCA Dome as Colts’ placekicker Mike Vanderjagt missed a potential game tying 46-yard field goal attempt as time expired. Indianapolis had rallied from a 21-3 deficit with 15 fourth-quarter points. Vanderjagt’s kick was set up when Indianapolis cornerback Nick Harper recovered a goal-line fumble by Pittsburgh’s Jeremy Bettis and returned the ball to midfield after a desperation tackle by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.