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No controversy as Ward returns to Steelers

LATROBE, Pa. -- The Pro Bowl wide receiver finally showed up at training camp, an apology to his teammates in hand, no longer a
distraction or a source of concern to a team that went deep into
the playoffs last season and expects to do so again.

There were smiles, handshakes and hugs, rather than whispers of resentment or questions about his sincerity, when Hines Ward resumed practicing Wednesday with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Terrell Owens, this was not. Anyone looking for controversy or a sideshow needed to travel about five hours east in Pennsylvania to
the Eagles' camp to find it.

"I could tell today that everybody was up because Hines Ward,
he's back," rookie wide receiver Fred Gibson said. "The tempo of
the practice today was great."

If there was any hostility or unhappiness, Ward's teammates
didn't express it -- a contrast to the Eagles' camp, where Owens'
behavior and standoffishness before his one-week suspension clearly
alienated some of his Eagles' teammates before Owens also returned
Wednesday.

That didn't prevent Ward from going from dorm room to dorm room
at St. Vincent College, catching up with his teammates and, he
said, apologizing for being away.

"There's been no player come up to me and say, 'Hey, you should
have been here,"' Ward said. "Most of them said, 'Man, you're
lucky you got to miss two weeks of training camp. ... Guys weren't
talking about the contract, they're just glad to have me out here
and I'm glad to be out there."

Jerome Bettis and cornerback Willie Williams were among the players who said no apology was necessary.

"He had to take care of his business -- the way this business
is, you've got to get what you can get," Williams said. "I don't
blame him for doing what he had to do. I know his heart was here
with us. If I was in that situation, I'd probably do the same
thing. We respect him a lot. He's worked hard all his years in
Pittsburgh and he deserves anything he gets."

Williams, who often lines up across from Ward during practice,
said Ward "was a little rusty" but looks to be in good shape.
Before practice, Ward ran a few of the 40-yard sprints all players
must do on the first day of camp, and he stayed late afterward to
catch passes launched by a mechanical throwing machine.

"It wasn't as crisp as I wanted it to be, but it was the first
time I had the chance to run some routes against the defense,"
Ward said. "It wasn't a bad day, but I can do better. ... I don't
want to burn myself out the first day. I do need to get back into
condition with these guys, so I've got to put in twice the work to
get caught up."

With Ward missing and Antwaan Randle El hurt last week, the Steelers were so thin at receiver that Gibson, a fourth-round pick from Georgia, practiced with the first unit for several days.

Now that all the receivers are in camp, Cedrick Wilson has moved from Ward's flanker position back to split end, where Plaxico Burress played last season, to compete with Randle El.

"I'm going back to the position I've been wanting to play ever
since I've been in the NFL, the position I'm comfortable with,"
Wilson said. "I like to attack the defensive back off the line of
scrimmage, and being at flanker, it's tougher to beat them deep. At
split end, you get a lot of deep routes and those are the balls I
like to catch."

Notes
Ward's roommate, cornerback Deshea Townsend, said the two
were awakened about 6:45 a.m. for NFL drug testing. ... Ward made
one long catch near the end of the morning practice, and another in
the end zone on a pass thrown by Ben Roethlisberger during a
goal-line drill. ... Ward plans to play in Saturday night's home
exhibition game against Miami. ... Ward's agent, Eugene Parker, has
resumed talks with the Steelers now that Ward is back. The team
declined to negotiate after Ward didn't report at the start of
camp.