Notebook: Kuhn in the hunt

John Kuhn

PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Steelers are determined to make a fullback out of John Kuhn, but this week he's vying to replace Verron Haynes as the team's third-down back.

Not bad for a guy who's only been on an NFL sideline one time.

"That's what I want more than anything and it's finally here," said Kuhn. "I was on the sideline in street clothes in the Super Bowl last year, but for the most part, the practice squad, we're in the boxes to keep out of the way because the sidelines are tight."

Kuhn can be kept out of the way no longer. The all-time leading rusher at Shippensburg University was activated from the practice squad this week. He's competing with Najeh Davenport for work on third down, but expects to help on special teams first.

"Special teams is where I'm going to get the chance to show I can play," he said. "I think I did a pretty good job with it in preseason."

Kuhn spent last season on the practice squad and spent most of this preseason working at fullback. As a tailback Kuhn impressed, but as a lead blocker, the 6-0, 255-pounder struggled. Yet, the Steelers have used him exclusively at fullback on the scout team all season.

"The technique at this level is a little different," he said. "In college I could run through just about anybody staying high, but here you've got to be so much lower. It's just one of the tips I've had to learn and take from Danny [Kreider] and I've been working really hard at that. Danny's been the best. The practice squad is his rest from the active roster and he's just been there watching, giving me tips after every play."

Both Kuhn and Kreider are natives of central Pennsylvania. Kreider attended Manheim Central High School and Kuhn went to Dover High School, so there was much to celebrate in York this week.

"My parents were ecstatic," Kuhn said. "They were so happy for me. They're excited to come and check out a game now. Hopefully I can get in a uniform and get out there, even if it just running around on special teams."

UNIFORM NUMBERS

Kuhn will wear No. 42, the number his position coach, Dick Hoak, wore as a player with the Steelers. Another newcomer, linebacker Marquis Cooper, was assigned No. 95.

Cooper, 6-3, 225, was an inside linebacker at Washington and led the team in tackles in 2003 and 2002. He was drafted in the third round of the 2004 draft by Tampa Bay and appeared in 14 games on special teams. He played in 12 games in 2005 and ended up with Minnesota this year, but was waived Oct. 30. The Steelers claimed him the next day to help their special teams, which have been hit hard by injuries. Of the Steelers' top 10 special-teams tacklers last season, only four – Ike Taylor, Clint Kriewaldt, Tyrone Carter and Sean Morey – are still around and will suit up this week. Newcomer Arnold Harrison is also out with an injury.

LAME DUCK COACH?

Bill Cowher won't explain why he hasn't renegotiated a contract that expires following the 2007 season. That and the fact he purchased a house outside of Raleigh, North Carolina has fueled speculation that this is his final season. Some believe his rumored lame-duck status has led to a lack of discipline and focus and explains the team's 2-5 start.

"No," said guard Alan Faneca. "I've always said since the whole thing came up, how does this affect us? It doesn't affect us till and when and if it does happen. How does that affect us getting ready for Denver this week?"

Could players take it easy if Cowher is leaving?

"I don't think so, because every time you step on that field it goes on your resume," Faneca said. "Whether you're here or you're somewhere else, or another coach comes in or doesn't come in, whatever scenario you want to do, it's on your resume. It's who you are, and people look at that."

INJURY UPDATE

Deshea Townsend (probable/quad) was the only player to miss Wednesday's practice, aside from the four players – James Harrison, Jeff Hartings, Mike Logan and Willie Reid – who are listed as out for Sunday's game. Casey Hampton (questionable/hamstring) returned to practice. Clark Haggans (ankle) was upgraded to probable.

None of the Denver Broncos missed practice. The team lists 10 players as probable.

STAT CHANGE

Clark Haggans's first sack last Sunday has been ruled a half sack by the NFL. He now shares the sack with Aaron Smith, who now has 1.5 sacks this season. Haggans now has 4.5.

QUOTABLE

Ben Roethlisberger on what defenses are doing differently this season: "They're watching Hines [Ward] a little more. They know I want to go to him. The more we start utilizing other weapons … teams will start keying on those things and trying to slow those things down. The more we start using other weapons, the more Hines will open up."

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