Linebacker returns after two solid practices

PITTSBURGH -- Just 2½ weeks after being shot outside a Denver nightclub, Joey Porter is returning to his rightful place in the Pittsburgh Steelers' linebacking corps.

"He'll start," coach Bill Cowher told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Thursday after the team's practice.

Porter will play at right outside linebacker Sunday when the Steelers play the Bengals in Cincinnati.

"This was just going out there [in practice], being able to play football like I know how instead of going out there and hurting the team," Porter told the paper. "I showed them what I could do when I was out there, and I guess that was good enough to get his approval.

"I feel good being able to go out there and play football again. It's amazing how fast I was able to get back out there. When it first happened, I really was thinking two to eight weeks was very possible, but it healed up so fast and it feels so good right now that it's not even that I'm pushing myself to get back out there. I'm really healed right now."

Porter's amount fo playing time will be limited only by his game conditioning, rather than any complications from the shooting.

"He hasn't played in two weeks and hasn't done much until this past week, so there's nothing etched in stone," Cowher told the Post-Gazette. "We'll just have to see how he feels."

Porter is confident he will feel just fine.

"I'm ready to go," he told the paper. "I've pretty much got my role back. If they don't want to give me the whole load, I'll just do what I can do and ease myself back into situations. But I'm ready to take on the full load that I had before I left."

Porter was shot as he left a bar in Denver at closing time. A 9 mm bullet passed through the left side of his buttocks and lodged in his right thigh. Police have said Porter was not an intended victim in the shooting, which left one man dead and five people wounded. Porter had traveled to attend a college football game between his alma mater, Colorado State, and Colorado the weekend before the Steelers' regular season opened.

Fourth-year pro Clark Haggans filled in for Porter the first two games, making 10 tackles, including a sack.

It was originally thought Porter might miss up to half the season, but he was able to begin working out last week before Cowher ruled him out of the Steelers' game at Kansas City. He was listed as questionable Tuesday and practiced in pads Wednesday for the first time since the shooting. Porter was upgraded to probable Thursday morning before Cowher announced in the afternoon he would start, despite Porter's feeling some expected aches and pains after returning from his layoff.

"The soreness is there in my legs from working out all week, but besides that I feel normal," he told the paper. "The wound is healed. It's closed up."