Something was amiss when Mike Tomlin revealed his 53-man roster over the weekend: No third tight end.
It has been a long time since the Steelers have gone with just two tight ends and they made sure they would not open this season that way when they signed veteran Sean McHugh, who has played for the Lions in the NFL and the Nittany Lions in college.
McHugh, 26, was released this week by Detroit, where he started 12 games last season as a fullback-tight end or H-back, as that hybrid position has come to be known.
He would seem to be a good fit as the No. 3 tight end for coordinator Bruce Arians' offense that often lines up a tight end in the backfield, where the true lead fullback has been virtually eliminated.
"I think that's the one thing that's really helped me out in my career is having a versatility," McHugh said. "I wouldn't label myself one or the other."
McHugh went to Penn State as a tight end -- Tennessee drafted him in the seventh round in 2004 -- but moved to fullback early. He does not think the fullback will disappear in the NFL altogether.
"I still think there's a need for a fullback and a tight end. I think when you can find someone who can do a little bit of both, it can help you out."
McHugh (6-5, 265) spent the past three seasons with the Lions, where he caught 17 passes for 252 yards last season. He played for Green Bay in 2004.
He did not practice yesterday because he has an ankle injury.
Linebacker James Harrison left practice early yesterday and had a wrap around his right shoulder and bicep. He was coy about any possible physical problem.
"It was hot, so I needed to stop," he said.
The official injury report listed Harrison's limited participation as due to a "coach's decision."
If Harrison were to be hurt, Lawrence Timmons would replace him at right outside linebacker.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will take snaps from his third starting center in the past three seasons when newcomer Justin Hartwig starts there Sunday.
Hartwig was declared the starter last week and 2007 starter Sean Mahan was shipped back to Tampa Bay Tuesday for a seventh-round draft choice in 2009.
"Justin has done a great job of learning where I am and I am learning from him," Roethlisberger said. "We are learning on the fly here because we had Sean and then all of a sudden it's Justin. He has done a good job adjusting to me and the rest of the guys around him and I think he'll be great."
There have been sneaky suspicions by some media in Houston that the Texans will use more of rookie Steve Slaton at halfback Sunday than coach Gary Kubiak is letting on. Starter Ahman Green has fought a groin injury this summer.
Slaton, drafted in the third round from West Virginia, led the Texans in the preseason with 138 yards rushing on 34 carries. He also returned six kickoffs.
"He is one of those young kids that has gotten better each week at camp," Kubiak said. "He has improved and we are asking him to do a lot of the things he did in West Virginia. He is probably one of our most improved players week-in and week-out ... he is going to be a factor for our team. He is going to be on the field to help us win and we can't wait to get him out there."
The Steelers have had difficulty with cutback runners in the past and the 5-9, 201-pound Slaton has that ability.
"He is a guy that has a toughness that you love to see for a smaller type back," his quarterback, Matt Schaub, said yesterday. "He loves to get vertical and put his head down -- he'll make the first guy miss more often than not. He's got that burst to get in that hole and make a big play. He is one of those guys that turns a 10-yard run into a 30- or 40-yard run. He brings that explosive nature to our backfield."