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Old 08-22-2004   #1
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Default From Pittsburgh Post-Gazette .. on Bruener

Steelers Notebook: Bruener catches on with Texans

Saturday, August 21, 2004
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pat Sullivan, Associated Press

Houston Texans tight end Mark Bruener keeps his eyes on the ball in a training camp drill.

Mark Bruener will be in a familiar position tonight -- starting at tight end in a game at Heinz Field. But it will not be with the Steelers.

A former No. 1 pick who spent nine years in Pittsburgh, Bruener has found new life with the Houston Texans. Because of injuries, he returns to play his former team as the starting tight end.

"It will be weird, it will be different, but at the same time it will be exciting," he said.

Bruener has been getting extensive playing time with the Texans because of injuries to Billy Miller, Jabari Holloway and Bennie Joppru, a No. 2 pick in 2003 who is on the physically unable to perform list. Bruener has been one of the few healthy tight ends -- an irony given the injuries that shortened his seasons in 2001 and '02.

"I'm feeling great," Bruener said. "I'm feeling better than I think I have in years. I don't know if it's the heat down here and it keeps me loose, but I feel great. It's definitely a different environment."

Bruener was a No. 1 pick in 1995 and went on to become one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL, a player greatly responsible for the success of the Steelers' running game. But after a shoulder injury ended his season in 2001 and a knee injury cut short his season in '02, Bruener's playing time and productivity decreased.

He took a $1.2 million pay cut to come back for one final season in '03, then was released because he was scheduled to make $2.4 million in '04.

The Texans, seeking depth at tight end, signed him to a three-year contract. Bruener will count $793,000 against their salary cap this year.

"I'm really enjoying my situation here," he said.

Bruener didn't sell his house in the North Hills because he wants to live in Pittsburgh when he is done playing. What's more, he still talks routinely with several of his former teammates and has great fondness for his former position coach, Ken Whisenhunt, who is now the offensive coordinator.

"Pittsburgh is a great city," Bruener said. "There's no place like it.

"Houston seems like a good city, too, but it's just not good enough to pick up and move here."
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