BEREA - Left guard Eric Steinbach didn`t practice for the second straight day with a back injury and was listed as questionable on the injury report. According to league guidelines, that means he has a 50-50 shot of playing Sunday vs. the Steelers.
Steinbach downplayed the injury to reporters Friday and said he expected to practice and play. He injured the back Wednesday during practice.
"I just tweaked it a little bit," said Steinbach, who went for treatment after talking to reporters. "I just had to let it calm down (Thursday). It`s nothing major."
Will he play?
"Yeah. Definitely," he said. "I`ll be good. I`ll do everything in my power. It`s not that big a deal."
If Steinbach can`t go, journeyman Lennie Friedman would start in his place. That would be a significant drop-off from Steinbach, who signed a $49.5 million deal in the offseason.
At right guard, veteran right tackle Ryan Tucker is expected to start in place of Seth McKinney, who`s out with a shoulder injury.
Inside linebacker D`Qwell Jackson, a second-round pick in 2006, returned to the practice field for the first time since spraining an ankle in the first quarter vs. the Rams on Oct. 28.
He was limited and listed as doubtful. He leads the team with 60 tackles.
"Anytime you lose a guy that`s a starter, that`s a loss," defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. "He`s young and has improved from last year to this year. Not having him hurts us a little bit. He`s working to get back on the field. Hopefully he`ll be ready soon."
Outside linebacker Antwan Peek (knee) didn`t practice and is questionable. He was receiving treatment Friday when he walked past reporters in the locker room.
"I`m good to go," he said.
* For the Steelers, receiver Santonio Holmes (hamstring) practiced and is probable.
In the past two games, the Browns defense allowed four touchdowns in the first half as the Browns fell behind 14-0 and 21-6. Grantham downplayed the problem.
"We`ve actually started fast before," he said, mentioning the Baltimore and Miami wins. "The last two games there have been chances to make plays and we haven`t made them in those situations.
"To the credit of the players, they kept playing, which they`ve done all year. And, in turn, they made some plays in the second half."
The Browns have come up with fourth-and-1 stops in the fourth quarter and overtime the last two weeks.
Coach Romeo Crennel blamed the red-zone defense for the early woes.
"We`ve given up touchdowns. That`s been the thing," he said. "We`ve got to quit giving up touchdowns early and force field-goal attempts. That way, the hole is not that deep."
AS BAD AS IT GETS
Phil Dawson has been with the Browns since 1999 and says Pittsburgh`s Heinz Field is the worst stadium for kickers. The field is grass and gets beat up by the Steelers, the University of Pittsburgh and some high school games.
"Everybody knows what they`re getting into when they go to Pittsburgh," Dawson said. "It`s a very challenging place, but they have to play on it, too.
"You go out in pregame and try to figure out what shoes to wear - if anything works. You just have to do the best you can on Sunday."
Dawson is 7-for-9 on field goals at Heinz with a long of 46 yards and misses from 40 and 45. He`s made 11 of 12 extra points.
He is 13-for-14 on field goals this year. He missed his only extra point in 25 chances last week.
Outspoken linebacker Joey Porter left the Steelers in the offseason, and while James Harrison has replaced him on the field, there`s a void in the trash-talk department.
"It was fun playing against the Steelers when he was there," running back Jamal Lewis said. "You know it`s going to be exciting, know there`s going to be a lot of trash talk out there. Now, you have some guys like that, but no one like Joey."
During his eight years in Pittsburgh, Porter got ejected after a pregame fight with Browns running back William Green and called Cleveland tight end Kellen Winslow a homosexual slur.
"We`re still the same team without him," Steelers linebacker James Farrior said in a conference call. "The thing we miss about Joey is his locker room presence, his leadership and his personality."
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or email@example.com.