Porter can begin rehab immediately

Updated: September 2, 2003, 5:09 PM ET
Associated Press

PITTSBURGH -- Could be as little as two weeks. Or as long as half the season. Or maybe six weeks.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have only a vague idea when All-Pro linebacker Joey Porter will return after being shot last weekend in Denver, coach Bill Cowher said Tuesday.

But a relieved Cowher said Porter's injuries easily could have been much worse, and there is every reason to believe the Steelers' best defensive player will be back well before the season ends. The Steelers open the season Sunday against Baltimore.

"More tests are being taken, but there have been no setbacks to this point," Cowher said. "(What happens) over the next couple of days will have a lot to do with his status."

A bullet struck Porter in the buttocks and lodged in his right thigh as he was standing in a crowd of about 150 outside a Denver sports bar early Sunday. One person was killed and four others were injured in what police described as a drive-by shooting, though they said Porter was an innocent bystander.

After flying back to Pittsburgh on a private plane Monday, Porter was examined by team doctor James Bradley, who removed the bullet from his thigh. Cowher said Porter can begin rehabilitating immediately.

"My conversations with him have been short and positive and (he's) optimistic about getting back -- and he will be back," Cowher said. "At what point it's way too early to speculate. But, at this point, I obviously plan on him playing."

Cowher refused to go into specifics about Porter's condition, citing the new federal law that protect a person's private medical records. But he said, "A lot of things can pop up ... and I don't have a lot of history of dealing with an injury like this."

If Porter sustained no significant nerve or muscle damage and his wounds heal normally, his recovery could be on the short side. However, if scar tissue builds up where muscle once was -- as sometimes happens when baseball pitchers undergo elbow or shoulder surgery -- Porter's recovery could take longer.

Porter is expected to visit the Steelers' locker room later this week and Cowher plans on his being on the sidelines Sunday.

Porter will be replaced in the base defense by Clark Haggans, Porter's former teammate at Colorado State and probably the Steelers' most skilled defensive backup. Haggans had 6½ sacks last season, most of them early in the season while playing in the dime defense on passing downs.

"Here's a guy who has lined up and played," Cowher said. "I think our team recognizes he's a pretty good player."

Haggans also flew to Denver last weekend and attended the Colorado State-Colorado game with Porter. Haggans hasn't said if he also accompanied Porter to the sports bar, which police said was located in a relatively high-crime area.

But while Cowher cautioned his players Monday during a team meeting about putting themselves into situations where trouble could confront them, he has no problems with Porter's decision to attend the game.

"I certainly would not ask anyone to live their life in a shell and be afraid about doing things," Cowher said. "But you have to be aware you're in a high profile position and there are people in our society who will try to exploit that.

"I'm not just talking about Joey, but look at all the situations that have come up with high-profile players and some situations they've put themselves into," he said. "The longer you stay out at night, the more risk you put yourself into. People's courage becomes greater as the night goes on. You have to be careful where you are and who you're with and what kind of situation you put yourself into, particularly as the night grows older."

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press