Visit NFL from the sidelines on the new Observer-Reporter site:

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Who to root for, against

It has been a constant conundrum for fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the past couple of weeks as the team has climbed back from a 2-6 start to jump back into the playoff race: Who do I root for.

I thought I might be able to spell that out a little more for you this week heading into Week 16 of the NFL schedule – so long as I don’t confuse myself in the process.

First and foremost, the Steelers need a victory over the Baltimore Ravens this week at Heinz Field. That certainly is not a given, but considering the Ravens will likely be without Jonathan Ogden, by far their best offensive lineman, that task isn’t quite as daunting as it once seemed.

If, and only if, that happens, do the Steelers playoff hopes stay alive.

The second thing that needs to happen – and probably the most important of any scenarios – the Jaguars have to lose to New England in Jacksonville. Again, it’s not a given, but considering the Patriots still haven’t locked up their division and still have the possibility of nailing down one of the top two seeds in the AFC playoffs, New England has plenty of incentive to beat the Jags.

That game will be played at the same time the Steelers are taking on Baltimore, so a little scoreboard watching is allowed.

Of equal importance is the Jets' game at Miami Monday night. Considering the Jets finish up the season with Oakland at home – a game they could likely start their backups in and win – a loss by New York this week in Miami is very important. Miami should get running back Ronnie Brown back this week, so the Steelers have that going for them, which is nice.

Saturday night, Kansas City is at Oakland, which should be a lay-up for the Chiefs. But as we saw when the Steelers lost at Oakland, the Raiders defense can be dangerous and should be up to play a game against a division rival. Still Kansas City should win there, which would mean the best scenario for the Steelers would be for Denver to hold serve against Cincinnati at home at 4:15 Sunday.

The Steelers are actually OK from either standpoint if Denver or Cincinnati wins – so long as Kansas City does as well on Saturday. If Kansas City somehow loses to Oakland, the Steelers’ situation becomes a little more tenuous since a 9-7 Kansas City team eliminates a 9-7 Denver team in a multi-team tie in which the Steelers are involved. The Steelers would also like the Chiefs to have something to play for when they host Jacksonville in Week 17, so Kansas City staying alive in the hunt is something of a necessity.

Finally, since Tennessee is at Buffalo, one of those two teams will be eliminated this weekend. A tie would eliminate both, so you could always root for that. But barring a tie, both teams have difficult season enders, with Buffalo traveling to Baltimore and Tennessee hosting New England. Of the two games, Tennessee’s would seem to be a little easier. New England will be making its second consecutive road trip.

And just think, all that does is get you through another week. Ah, the wacky playoff chase in the AFC.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

It's all about Chidi

At the beginning of this season, the Steelers’ coaching staff made a choice of keeping tight end Tim Euhus over cornerback Chidi Iwuoma, one of their best special teams players.

Iwuoma was brought back last week because of injuries in the secondary. Euhus was released back in September.

All Iwuoma did Sunday was make a great open-field tackle on Carolina’s first punt return Sunday and finished the game with two special teams tackles. Couldn’t have used that all season, huh?

Then again, Iwuoma did injure his arm during the game and had it in a sling in the locker room. He’s not the biggest guy and had gotten banged up in the past few seasons.

But he sure does give his all on special teams.

© Speaking of special teams, James Harrison said his punt block Sunday came from film study.

“He did what I saw him do on film, which was try to just give me a one-handed block before releasing,” said Harrison, giving me a shove with his arm to demonstrate how Kortez Hankton liked to block. “I knew I’d have an opportunity to block one today.”

I was just glad Harrison was in a good mood.

Shame on Carolina, however, for trying to block Harrison with Hankton, a wide receiver.

© Anthony Smith’s one-handed interception in the fourth quarter was a thing of beauty. His high-stepping to the sidelines during a live play was not and drew the ire of both head coach Bill Cowher and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who I’ve never seen that angry.

“I didn’t appreciate his gesture,” Cowher said. “We don’t do that around here. He understood that. You won’t ever see that again.”

Smith is a keeper and also had some big hits in the game. He also learned an important rookie lesson early in the third quarter when he got run over by running back DeShaun Foster when Foster caught Smith flat-footed.

© Chad Brown’s season – and career – are likely over. Brown suffered a serious knee injury Sunday. It’s too bad a classy vet like Brown has to have his career end that way.

© Was it just me or did Cedrick Wilson look like a shortstop firing the ball to first base from deep in the hole on his end around pass?

Wilson threw the pass so hard he knocked Hines Ward over with it.

© Speaking of Wilson, he's officially lost his starting job to Santonio Holmes. Holmes played an inspired game and was about six inches from scoring three touchdowns Sunday.

He also made a twisting conversion of a third-down pass to get to pick up a first down. This kid's a keeper.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Browns out

You knew that pass interference in the first quarter had to be on Sean Morey before it was announced. How else could Morey have gotten that much separation?

Then again, that was Walter Young and Morey converting long third downs on the Steelers’ third drive, so what do I know?

© Who would win a race between Joe Jurevicius and Deshea Townsend? Just asking.

© Wow has Ike Taylor’s star fallen. He’s gone from shut-down cornerback to now being the guy who holds the ball when placekicker Jeff Reed needs somebody on kickoffs.

© From the sublime category: One colleague mentioned that it was quite appropriate that a guy named Droughns would be playing in a game in which Bryant Gumbel was the announcer.

© Anthony Smith played an inspired game in his first career start, breaking up two passes with big hits and intercepting another. But his youth was displayed on the long touchdown catch-and-run by Braylon Edwards when Smith missed a tackle attempt on the mouth from Michigan to allow Cleveland’s only score.

© Not only did the Browns give up 303 yards rushing, they didn’t lay a hand on Ben Roethlisberger all night long. Good thing they scored, though. We wouldn’t want them using this game as a reason to fire themselves up when they face the Steelers next season.

If the Browns were embarrassed in this game, it should be because they tackled like a midget football team.

© OK, the Steelers are now 6-7, one game out of a playoff spot heading into this weekend’s games. There’s a good chance they could head to Carolina next week to face a Panthers squad led by Chris Weinke.

Boy, that loss at Oakland sure looks big now. So does Bill Cowher’s boneheaded decision to send Ricardo Colclough out to field a punt against Cincinnati. Win one of those games and the Steelers are right in the middle of the playoff hunt. Win them both and they would be a favorite to not only be a wildcard, but to possibly win the division.

As it is now, they are more than likely a team that will have to settle for playing a spoiler role – first knocking Carolina out of the playoffs; then keeping Baltimore from having a first-round bye; and finally, by ending Cincinnati’s playoff hopes.

© During the broadcast, color commentator Chris Collinsworth said that Cowher told him, “If I go to Carolina, I’m going to get away. I’m not going there to be Mr. Football. If I do that I want to be with the Pittsburgh Steelers.”

When asked about that after the game, Cowher said that Collinsworth was interpreting what he told him.

When asked if he had made up his mind about whether he wants to coach next season or not, he simply replied, “No.”

Take the little victories when you can get them.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Mediocrity rewarded

© Tampa Bay had no respect whatsoever for the Steelers’ receivers and looked to have eight or sometimes even nine men up at the line of scrimmage at times.

Get used to that as long as Hines Ward isn’t around to occupy opposing defenders.

© Sean Morey did his best Cedrick Wilson impersonation on the only pass thrown his way, calling for a pass interference penalty before the ball had even hit the ground. The only difference was that Morey did, indeed, get mugged.

Then again, the officials probably figured that the receiver has to get some kind of separation before they’ll call pass interference. Morey got none.

Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t especially sharp against the Bucs, but he didn’t have much to work with, either. And that was before Wilson limped off the field following his second catch.

© Speaking of Wilson, what was with that celebration for after his first reception?

Coaches used to tell players to act like you’ve been there before after scoring a touchdown. Has the time come for them to now remind players to act like they’ve caught a 13-yard pass before?

© Was there anybody in the stadium who didn’t know the Bucs were going to try a fade pass to Maurice Stovall when they brought him into the game in the third quarter?

Bryant McFadden certainly knew it was coming.

A good pass may have beaten McFadden. The one Bruce Gradkowski threw was not a good one as it was thrown more to the inside than the outside.

Still, McFadden did what you are supposed to do and played the football.

© Porter has begun his late-season Pro Bowl push. I’m sure he’ll follow up Sunday’s two-sack performance with a couple more Thursday night at Cleveland and suddenly he’ll have nine sacks. Happens every year.

© How about that dive Gradkowski took when Deshea Townsend came in unblocked?

Gradkowski hasn’t gone down that easily since Washington High School beat his Seton-LaSalle team by 60 points.

He must have thought Casey Hampton was storming through that hole instead of Townsend.

© I overheard Ryan Clark telling Anthony Smith to be ready to play Thursday against the Browns. His reasoning?

Clark was told that head coach Bill Cowher said during his post-game press conference that his groin injury was serious. That’s all Clark knew about it. Apparently, nobody told Clark it was serious.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Baltimore bashing

There wasn’t much good to come out of this game. Ben Roethlisberger was walking with a noticeable limp afterward and Troy Polamalu has what head coach Bill Cowher termed, “a serious knee injury.”

But Polamalu was walking around the locker room with more ease than Roethlisberger, so go figure.

Polamalu will likely be out for two weeks with a sprained MCL.

© Hines Ward will be out for at least two games as well after having surgery to repair a broken bone in his knee.

Things are really coming together now.

© I won’t completely fault just the offensive line for the high number of sacks Sunday. On several occasions guys were coming in untouched. And that’s a problem with the scheme, which can be attributed to the coaching.

The same goes for the way the Ravens gashed the Steelers with their running game in the first half.

© So let’s see, they got outplayed physically and outcoached. Yep, that pretty much sums up a 27-0 beating.

© If you didn’t blink, you got to see the changes Cowher made on the kickoff coverage unit.

It largely consisted of putting Chad Brown out there for Anthony Smith.

The Steelers only got to kick off once, though, so we don’t know if that’s a full-time change.

© Brett Keisel was back on kickoff return teams and the Steelers averaged just 15.0 yards per return. So much for that experiment.

© Not only did the Ravens have nine sacks, they also had nine quarterback hurries and 10 pass defenses. The Steelers had no sacks, one pass defense and one hurry. Both the hurry and the pass defense came on the same play when Keisel came through and batted down a Steve McNair pass.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Ain't easy being Peazy

He may not be the player he once was, but Steelers linebacker Joey Porter is still the focal point of a lot of the anger from opposing teams.

Sunday was no different as Peazy spent the entire pregame jawing with Browns, most notably Kellen Winslow.

Some would say it was too bad Porter and Winslow didn’t fight the way he and William Green did a couple of years ago. Had Porter and Winslow gotten themselves ejected before the game, that would have been a win for the Steelers.

© That’s not to say Porter isn’t still good for a great quote.

After the game Sunday, Porter had this to say about the Browns: “They can’t beat us. They talk like they’re a different team, but they’re not.”

Think that one will be on the bulletin boards in Cleveland for the rematch in a couple of weeks?

© If there was any question about how important Troy Polamalu is to the Steelers’ defense, he showed exactly how valuable he is on Cleveland’s possession after Pittsburgh scored to cut Cleveland’s lead to 20-17.

Polamalu had a sack, then assisted Casey Hampton in tackling Cleveland running back Jason Wright for a 2-yard gain before knocking down a Charlie Frye pass on a blitz for single-handedly force the Browns to punt the ball back to the Steelers.

He was also the guy that broke up the Browns’ last-second pass into the end zone to end the game.

© Santonio Holmes is going to be a very good receiver in this league. Because of his lack of height he’ll probably never be a great receiver, but the kid is really starting to get a feel for Ben Roethlisberger.

And Roethlisberger is getting more comfortable with Holmes as well. Watching Holmes and Roethlisberger scramble simultaneously before Holmes’ 20-yard touchdown catch was a thing of beauty.

© Believe it or not, after Sean Morey hit the Browns for a 76-yard kick return, they started kicking the ball away from him.

© Bill Cowher obviously has no faith in his coverage teams any longer. How else can you explain those final two kickoffs?

The Steelers would have been better served to just have Jeff Reed kick the ball directly at Browns coach Romeo Crennel on the sidelines and give Cleveland the ball at the 40.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Nawlins notes

Ben Roethlisberger is really starting to look like a quarterback on a roll. Even when faced with a blitzer in his face, he threw the ball to a spot where only his receiver would have a chanced to catch it.

I guess he's learned a little something.

© I thought the Steelers had figured out how to solve their punt return problems – never make the opposing team punt. But then Cowher sent Santonio Holmes out to field a couple of punts in the second half.

Was there any doubt that Holmes was calling for a fair catch on both occasions?

© Speaking of returns, Sean Morey was back to return kickoffs with Najeh Davenport.

But, as Cowher related after the game, Morey was only supposed to be blocking for Davenport, who was supposed to handle all of the kick returns. Nothing like having a 190-pound wide receiver blocking for a 250-pound fullback.

Morey ended up handling a couple of kickoffs, though, when the Saints foiled Cowher’s plan by kicking off to him instead of Davenport. After Morey fumbled at the end of his first return - though I thought he was down by contact - I correctly assessed when he took off with his next return that he would simply run out of bounds. He did.

© If not for a blocked field goal by the Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers would have found themselves just three games out of first play headed to Cleveland next week.

Oh well.

© Ryan Clark said he was directing traffic in the second half like a crossing guard.

As bad as the Steelers’ pass defense was, especially in the second half when both Deshea Townsend and Troy Polamalu were out, it could have been worse. Had Joe Horn played for the Saints, it surely would have been worse.

The Steelers finally started doubling Marques Colston in the second half and forcing Drew Brees to beat them throwing to the likes of Aaron Stecker, Terrence Copper and Reggie Bush. He nearly did it.

© It’s hard to believe the Steelers had never had a 200-yard rusher under Cowher. In fact, given how much they’ve run the ball over the years, it’s hard to believe they’ve only had three 200-yard rushers – period.

Parker may not scare defenses physically, but teams will certainly look at film of Sunday’s game and make sure their safeties don’t get caught inside like New Orleans’ did.

© In previous years Cowher may have gone to Jerome Bettis in the fourth quarter with a seven-point lead. This year, he was forced to run Parker. There’s some dumb luck for you.

© The Steelers’ kickoff coverage teams included the likes of John Kuhn, Anthony Madison, Ronald Stanley, Marquise Cooper and Anthony Smith.

That should be a hungry group of players.

But it also shows the difference between this year’s coverage units and last year’s since none of those players were on the active roster last season.

Monday, November 06, 2006

More of the same

Once again, Max Starks was awful up front against the Denver Broncos Sunday. Once again, most of the Pittsburgh media will ignore that fact because Starks is such a good guy for the TV and radio people to talk to. He’s eloquent and always available for their interviews.

In fact, while watching the New England-Indianapolis game Sunday night, I saw a commercial for Monday’s news in which the teaser was an exlusive look at Starks’ custom car.

Are you kidding me? This team is 2-6, Starks is stinking up the joint and they’re doing a feature on his car?

Must be sweeps week.

© Let’s see, the right tackle is stinking up the joint, the outside linebackers can’t get consistent pressure on the quarterback, the cornerbacks are having trouble covering and nobody can seem to hold onto the football.

So what direction this team do with its first-round draft pick?

If wide receiver Calvin Johnson from Georgia Tech is available, the Steelers should grab him.

We saw Sunday with Denver’s Javon Walker torching the Steelers all over the field what a big-time offensive playmaker can mean for a team.

Hines Ward is good, but he’s just not that kind of player. At this point in his career, he’s more Rod Smith than Walker – not that there’s anything wrong with that.

© Joey Porter was absent from the locker room quickly Sunday. Then again, he was largely missing in action from Sunday’s game as well.

There’s no truth to the rumor that he led the cheer after the game, “Who stink? We stink.”

© Though Ike Taylor ended up being the target of several long passes and a couple of fade patterns in the end zone, Denver quarterback Jake Plummer said the team’s plan coming in was to target Deshea Townsend on those plays.

© Plummer tried on several occasions tried to give the Steelers a chance to win this game. The Steelers either couldn’t hold onto the passes he threw them or they fell harmlessly to the ground.

It’s really been the story of the season thus far.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

More changes

It looks as if Kendall Simmons will regain his starting spot at right guard this week, but will it last.

Head coach Bill Cowher said Tuesday that the battle between Chris Kemoeatu and Simmons would be a week-to-week thing. It looks like this is Simmons' week after Kemoeatu struggled in Oakland in place of Simmons.

Could it be that simple, or is Cowher playing matchups? I guess we'll find that out next week.

Also, it looks like John Kuhn, just activated off the practice squad, will dress instead of Duce Staley this week.

The reason? Kuhn can help out on special teams. Staley can't.

Oakland debacle

Ben Roethlisberger wanted more responsibility this season and he’s gotten it. Thus far, the third-year quarterback doesn’t appear ready to handle that kind of load.

He looked a lot more like Tommy Maddox Sunday than a quarterback who won a Super Bowl last season.

© Another week, another bad performance by the offensive line and right tackle Max Starks in particular.

But here’s betting you won’t hear Starks called out for his poor play by too many TV types in Pittsburgh. Starks is always quick with a quote and the TV types love to talk to him because he’s so well spoken.

Starks looked lost, however, trying to block Derrick Burgess Sunday.

I don’t know that the Chris Kemoeatu experiment at right guard is going to last all that long either. The big fella didn’t exactly dominate in the run game and his pass blocking looked pretty shoddy to say the least.

But Kendall Simmons was one of just three Steelers who dressed and did not play Sunday - Rodney Bailey and Charlie Batch were the other two – so maybe head coach Bill Cowher is preparing for the future.

© The play-calling Sunday by offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt was questionable at times to say the least.

We saw way too much of the four and five-wide receiver packages when the team was in short yardage situations. That tells me the Steelers don’t have any faith in their ability to run the ball and get a yard or two when needed.

Maybe Duce Staley will be the answer. Staley will be active from here on out with Verron Haynes being done for the season with a left leg injury.

© When it’s thought that Staley might be a savior, the team’s in trouble.

© Where was Cowher’s spit and fire when the defense was getting penalized for unsportsmanlike penalties on back-to-back plays?

Maybe the head coach is resigned to the fact that this is just not a good football team.

© Oakland averaged 0.9 yards per pass play, 2.9 yards per rushing play and 2.0 yards per play overall and won.

After 14 years of covering the NFL, I have officially seen it all.

At least in 2002 when Tommy Maddox single-handedly handed Houston a win with a performance like the one Roethlisberger had Sunday, the Texans’ defense stopped the Steelers on occasion.

The only thing stopping the Steelers Sunday was the Steelers.

© Shane Lechler was Oakland’s most valuable player in this game. The Raiders’ punter continually put the Steelers deep in their own territory to start drives, forcing them into bad situations.

© With this team floundering so badly, you can forget those Cowher retirement rumors. Cowher is now going to have to come back in 2007 to prove that he can turn this thing around after a 6-10 or 7-9 season.

Then again, at this point, 7-9 would be an achievement in itself with this squad.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Quit whining

The way the Steelers and head coach Bill Cowher were complaining at the end of the game, I thought I had wondered into the Seattle Seahawks locker room rather than Pittsburgh’s after its 41-38 loss to Atlanta.

The Steelers were in quite a state over a false start penalty called on wide receiver Nate Washington at the end of regulation that cost them a shot at a possible game-winning field goal.

“I don’t feel like I moved,” said Washington. “The only thing he could have gotten me on was my upper body. And the last time I checked, that’s not even (the referee’s) call. That’s the side judge’s call. The referee (Ron Winter) called it and he was behind me.”

But Washington definitely appeared to move right before the ball was snapped.

A much more questionable call was the roughing the kicker penalty moments before on Troy Polamalu. Polamalu was lying on the ground when kicker Michael Koenen kind of hopped into him on his follow-through. That not only gave the Falcons another shot at the field goal – one Morten Andersen missed – it cost the Steelers five seconds and five yards they could have used. Had that penalty not been called, Washington’s false start wouldn’t have been a problem.

The bottom line in this one for the Steelers is that they never put the Falcons away when they had the chance.

© On the subject of penalties, why wasn’t one called on Chauncey Davis’ helmet-to-helmet hit on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger?

Davis will likely draw a fine for a hit that knocked Roethlisberger out of the game and will likely draw him a nice fine from the league.

That’s actually not a bad tradeoff for the Falcons even though Charlie Batch played well in Roethlisberger’s place.

Roethlisberger was on fire in this game, while some of Batch’s good fortune came because of awful coverage and tackling by Atlanta.

© Up 17-7 in the first half with the ball, Roethlisberger’s fumbled snap deep in his own territory changed the momentum.

Not only did the Falcons cash that in for a touchdown, they then pulled off a successful surprise onside kick and scored another touchdown, a 14-point swing.

The Steelers were forced to scramble for another touchdown just to take a 24-21 lead into the half in a game that they were dominating to that point.

The Steelers had given up 28 yards on the ground to the vaunted Atlanta rushing attack and put up nearly 300 yards of offense, yet held just a three-point lead.

Somebody needs to convince these guys it’s OK to hold a team to field goals when they get a turnover inside your territory.

© When they are doing the voting for the Pro Bowl, somebody should show tape of this game to those thinking about voting for Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall. If that’s what passes for a great cover corner these days, then NFL defenses are doomed.

© It seems that Bryant McFadden’s move into the starting lineup in place of Deshea Townsend is now more than just because of injury. McFadden is there to stay.

Townsend played again Sunday as the third corner and was beaten badly by Michael Jenkins for a touchdown.

© One week after Michael Vick was sacked seven times by the Giants, the Steelers got to him just one time.

Some people are down on Joey Porter, but in the two games he’s missed, the Steelers have all of two sacks.

Is it possibly Porter is somebody opposing defenses have to contend with and helps free up other pass rushers?

© Once again that was a tired Pittsburgh defense on the field in the fourth quarter and overtime as Atlanta rushed for 87 yards in the fourth quarter and another 44 in the extra period.

Perhaps it would help if the Steelers could run the ball a little more themselves. Pittsburgh ran the ball 10 times for seven yards in the second half.

And we also saw a backup running back doing some damage late in the game as well. A couple of weeks ago it was San Diego’s Michael Turner dicing up the defense in the fourth quarter after the Steelrs had shut down LaDanian Tomlinson. This week it was Jerrious Norwood gaining 63 yards on seven second-half carries.

That may be the Steelers’ biggest need in this year’s draft – getting a quality running back to pair with Willie Parker.

Yes, it’s not too early to start talking about the draft now that this team is 2-4.

“It just seems like the ball isn’t bouncing our way this season,” said defensive end Brett Keisel. “I still think we have what it takes to do what we did last year. But with this loss, it’s going to be tough.”

That kind of sums things up.

Monday, October 16, 2006

KC just not that good

The question was asked following the game, “How did the receivers get so open all day?”

It was a good question to be sure and one Cowher really didn’t answer.

Is it possible that the Kansas City defense just isn’t that good? Yep.

© How about those replacements?

Chris Kemoeatu wasn’t all that noticeable on too many plays starting in place of Kendall Simmons, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. His best stat? The Steelers rushed for 219 yards and Roethlisberger was sacked once.

I don’t know how Kemoeatu will grade out, but it couldn’t have been bad. He was at least Simmons’ equal.

Arnold Harrison? Well, he truly was the best Arnold Harrison he could be starting in place of Joey Porter. Harrison finished with three tackles and a pass defensed, which is often a typical outing for Porter. Again, the biggest stat in favor of Harrison was the production of the running game, this time Kansas City’s. The Chiefs managed just 38 yards on 19 carries, so Harrison couldn’t have been too bad.

You don’t replace Porter with Harrison, but it certainly goes a long way toward showing why the Steelers weren’t real hot to re-work Porter’s contract.

Deshea Townsend showed why he’s still starting ahead of Bryant McFadden. Townsend surprisingly played in the nickel and defended two passes with three tackles, including one that was in the open field on third down against Larry Johnson.

McFadden, meanwhile, was OK. He had three tackles, two pass defenses and an interception, but also drew a pass interference penalty. McFadden will be fine down the road, but Townsend is still too cagey a veteran to replace.

© Anybody who suggested that Troy Polamalu needed to sit out some games until he was healthy should feel pretty silly right now.

Polamalu was, quite simply, one of the top two players on the field Sunday. The other player? Roethlisberger. And yet some people were suggesting he needed to sit as well.

Take a deep breath, people, and think about things clearly before you say or write them.

© The Steelers got their hands on 13 passes, coming away with three interceptions. They had just one sack, but Keisel told me after the game that their scheme was to just rush four players on most plays because they knew Damon Huard was going to get rid of the ball quickly. Plus, they didn’t want Johnson sneaking through a blitz and running free in the secondary against defensive backs.

Neither was a problem. Huard never hurt the Steelers, while Johnson’s long run was eight yards.

© Santonio Holmes did a nice job in the return game, but still had some ball-control issues. His first fumble on a punt return came when a Chiefs defender flashed by him at the last second, causing him to miss the ball. The second was a straight fumble as the ball was ripped free from his hands.

Sometimes, however, the ball just bounces your way. It was that kind of day for the Steelers.

© Najeh Davenport claims he was gassed from being on the punt return unit the play before his 48-yard run on which he was run down from behind by Kansas City defensive end Jared Allen.

OK, I’ll buy that. Davenport was playing over the center on punts and didn’t look out of place. That should give you an idea of how big he is.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Injury updates and more

The Steelers suffered three serious injuries in this one, two that were reported during the game and one that didn’t show up until well after.

Linebacker James Harrison’s left ankle sprain looks to be the most serious. He was in an air cast and on crutches following the game and could be lost for several weeks.

Wide receiver Willie Reid suffered a mid-foot sprain, but was only on crutches and will probably only miss a week or two.

Defensive end Brett Keisel suffered what is believed to be a bruised kidney. He was taken to a San Diego hospital for X-rays after complaining of pain in his side when the team arrived at the airport.

Keisel appeared to be OK, however, upon his return, though the team erred on the side of caution following Tampa Bay’s Chris Simms’ lacerated spleen during a game two weeks ago.

© That ill-fated fourth-down end around to Bryant McFadden in the first quarter needs to be sent back to the drawing board.

First of all, when you split punter Chris Gardocki out wide, you’re tipping your hand that there won’t be a punt. Secondly, why have McFadden running with the ball instead of, say, Reid or Santonio Holmes? Find somebody on the team who’s used to making guys miss with the ball in his hands.

McFadden told me after the game that play was one the team had been working on for several weeks and that it was used because of the down and distance, not because of something they had seen with the Chargers. That’s all the more reason it shouldn’t have been used.

The other trick play the team ran, a flea-flicker to Holmes, didn’t fool anybody on the San Diego sidelines either, as Holmes was double covered.

That play was one of the few poor decisions Roethlisberger made, throwing the ball despite the double coverage. The Steelers were moving the ball on San Diego to that point, but his interception there by Drayton Florence at the Chargers’ 6, and the subsequent 94-yard TD drive that followed, really turned the momentum.

© Jamal Williams pretty much had his way with Steelers center Jeff Hartings much the same way Casey Hampton did with Chargers center Nick Hardwick.

That was a big reason why neither team’s running game produced much.

Oh, I know that San Diego finished with 119 yards rushing, but LaDanian Tomlinson managed just 36 of that, with much of the damage coming on a late 23-yard run by Michael Turner and a 15-yard scamper by Philip Rivers late in the game.

© Roethlisberger said he wanted to show the Chargers that they erred in taking Rivers instead of him in the first round of the 2004 draft.

They didn’t.

Rivers fits what the Chargers do more than Roethlisberger would have. Then again, the Chargers’ coaching staff has done a good job of accentuating the things that Rivers does well. He’s very accurate on his short and mid-range passes.

© Najeh Davenport, nice to see you.

© Willie Parker averaged a healthy 4.1 yards per carry against one of the NFL’s top run defenses. The problem was that he only got 14 carries, just four of which came in the second half.

In fact, the Steelers ran just 18 plays in the second half as the defense was unable to keep San Diego from scoring on four consecutive drives.

© Cedrick Wilson was relegated to being the fourth receiver on several occasions, slipping behind Nate Washington and Santonio Holmes in some three-receiver sets.

© The surreal moment of the night came not during the game, but after it.

After filing my stories for my newspaper, I went with another reporter to get on the elevator and head down to the locker rooms. A security guard stopped us saying, “We’re holding the elevator for Mr. Madden.”

I explained in less-than-pleasant terms that we were on deadline and needed to get quotes to call back to our papers, while “Mr. Madden’s” work was finished for the evening.

Just then, another security guard came out and said that “Mr. Madden” was running late and they could send the elevator down again.

We got on and went down one floor where the elevator stopped, allowing Dan and Art Rooney and Dean Spanos to get on.

What kind of world do we live in when some TV schlub can hold up an elevator for himself, but the owners of the teams can climb aboard one with us common folk?

The people who voted for Madden for the Pro Football Hall of Fame should be ashamed.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

You stay classy

I sit here in the San Diego press box, where I've been at for the past three hours, with still another hour to go before tonight's game pondering the NFL.
Who in this league is any good, after all?
At this point, it looks like Chicago is the best team in the league. Indianapolis remains unbeaten, but has been unimpressive in getting there.
I still think Cincinnati is a fraud because it can't stop the run and can't protect Carson Palmer.
Baltimore? It faces a stiff test at Denver Monday night where we'll find out about the Ravens. But I don't think they have enough offense to be a a contender.
Jacksonville? Too up and down. Tough at home, but mediocre on the road.
Seattle? Overrated, but in the NFC, they'll contend.
We'll find out a lot about the Steelers as well tonight.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Changes coming

Everybody has been screaming for Willire Reid to return punts for the Steelers. But it looks like they'll have to settle for Ricardo Colclough not doing it.

Reid is in the mix of players the team is working out at punt returner right now, but I doubt Bill Cowher will be able to find a spot for a sixth wideout on game days.

That means Santonio Holmes or Cedrick Wilson will be back there against San Diego.

In kickoff returns, Colclough has also been replaced. Look for Najeh Davenport to get a shot at returning kickoffs.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Blame Cowher

Sometimes a coach just thinks he’s smarter than everyone else and he wants to show them so as often as possible.

That’s the only explanation for Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher continuing to send Ricardo Colclough back for punt returns in the team’s 28-20 loss to Cincinnati Sunday.

What in Colclough’s history has suggested he is a good punt returner?

Every time the Steelers had tried him back there in the past, Colclough had mishandled punts.

Seemingly every practice at training camp was punctuated by Colclough mishandling a punt.

Last week at Jacksonville Colclough had a punt jump out of his hands before he reeled it back in. And he also mishandled one in the opener against Miami.

Yet there was Colclough back there to return a critical fourth-quarter punt against the Bengals.

What did Colclough do?

What he’s always done.

That’s why I don’t blame Colclough for muffing a punt that the Bengals recovered at the Pittsburgh nine yard line. You don’t blame a lion for attacking a water buffalo. He’s just doing what lions do.

Cowher should shoulder all of the blame in this instance. He made the decision to put Colclough back there.

I’m not going to say Willie Reid would have made a difference in this game. But he certainly didn’t muff any punts during training camp.

But we still haven’t seen Reid during the regular season because he’s been inactive for the first three games.

If Cowher says having Reid active comes down to numbers on game day, that’s fine.

But that doesn’t explain why Santonio Holmes wasn’t back there instead of Colclough. At worst, Holmes would have just allowed the punt to bounce and the Steelers would have taken over the ball deep in their own territory instead of Cincinnati doing so.

© The miscues of the Steelers offense and Colclough ruined another strong effort by the defense, which is performing at the same level it did during last year’s playoff run.

Talk all you want about the four touchdown passes Carson Palmer threw Sunday, but the defense opened the second half in dominating fashion against the Bengals.

On four possessions prior to the muffed punt, Cincinnati had managed just one first down as Palmer was intercepted once, lost a fumble and was sacked three times.

All told, the great Cincinnati offense managed 64 second-half yards.

That should have been good enough for the Steelers to win.

© Ben Roethlisberger is obviously struggling with his throws, leaving a lot of balls high or otherwise off-target. He’s also forcing some throws.

But the receivers aren’t helping a lot by dropping a lot of passes.

Part of the reason is that they are being forced to leave their feet to make catches and are dropping the ball on contact with a defender. These guys are professionals, though, and should be expected to come up with more of those than they drop.

Through three games, the Steelers’ leading receiver is running back Verron Haynes, who has 10 catches for 59 yards.

That speaks volumes about how badly the passing game is struggling.

Through two games, Roethlisberger is completing less than 50 percent of his passes and his passer rating is 34.3. There were even a smattering of boos at times after some of his poorer throws.

If Roethlisberger has any doubts about how quickly fortunes can change for quarterbacks in Pittsburgh, he can give Kordell Stewart a call.

© If I’d have told you prior to Sunday’s game that Rudi Johnson would average just 2.5 yards per carry, gaining 47 yards on 19 carries, while Chad Johnson would get one catch for 11 yards, you’d have taken it in a heartbeat.

© Kudos to guard Kendall Simmons, who handled Sam Adams play after play in this game, often taking the big man wherever he wanted him to go.

If I’m the Bengals, when I look at the film of this game, I’m hoping that the second meeting with the Steelers in the final week of the season is meaningless.

If the Steelers are pushing the big man around like this now, what are they going to do to him in the second meeting?

Certainly getting middle linebacker Odell Thurman back will help Cincinnati’s run defense. But Adams looked old and fat Sunday, which is fine if you’re watching the game from the couch or press box, but not all that impressive if you’re being asked to catch Willie Parker.

© This is the fourth time in Cowher’s tenure that the Steelers have opened a season 1-2. In each of the other three seasons – 2002, 1997 and 1993 – the team has rebounded to make the playoffs.

But with Cincinnati and Baltimore already off to 3-0 starts, the team certainly has dug itself a nice hole.

© After his quick start against Miami, Joey Porter again had a day in which he played but didn’t show up a lot in the stat sheet. Porter was credited with one pass defensed and one assist on a tackle against the Bengals.

He did push Palmer out of the pocket on one occasion, into the waiting arms of defensive end Brett Keisel. And the defense did finish with six sacks, so it’s hard to fault Porter for Sunday’s loss.

© So why was Haynes in the game following Cincinnati’s go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter?

Parker had taken himself out of the game after his 31st carry after getting speared.

That wasn’t a coaching decision. That was fate.

© Safety Ryan Clark nearly did society a favor when he decked Cincinnati receiver Chris Henry in the third quarter, a hit that resulted in a Pittsburgh interception and Henry laying on the ground for several minutes.

Henry, who has been arrested four times in the past year, received a slap on the wrist last week on a gun charge in Orlando.

Here's betting the league will come down harder on Clark for leaving his feet to hit Henry than it will on Henry for his mutiple infractions.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Jacksonville debacle

Running back Willie Parker pretty much summed up what happened to the Steelers in Monday night's 9-0 loss at Jacksonville with one statement.

"They kicked our asses," said Parker, who was held to 20 yards on 11 carries as the Steelers were limited to 26 yards rushing.

It was a statement nobody who watched the game could argue.

The Steelers, a team used to being a bully, were out-bullied by the Jaguars. And there was nothing the Steelers could do about it.

"They were out there dancing and having a good time because they were beating us up," said Parker. "Heck, they were even doing it before the game. We just got out-physicalled."

And thats not ever supposed to happen to this team.

"I know I'm not happy about it and there's nobody else in this locker room who's happy about it either."

What the Steelers will do about that remains to be seen.

But as the defending Super Bowl champions, the Steelers are going to get everybody's best shot when they play them, especially on the road. Monday night, they weren't ready for that.

© One week after showing up in a big way in a victory over the Miami Dolphins, Joey Porter completely disappeared from action against Jacksonville.

I know I saw Porter on the field Monday night. But the stat sheet said he had one assist on a tackle. I don't even recall that one.

The NFL's most feared player was more like the Invisible Man here at Alltell Stadium.

© The same couldn't be said of the rest of the Steelers linebackers, who played their butts off.

Fred Taylor gashed the Steelers for a couple of mid-range runs in the third quarter, but other than that, he was largely held in check.

Nose tackle Casey Hampton also had a strong game against Jacksonville center Brad Meester, who is one of the best at his position in the league.

But the secondary was flat-out awful.

Cornerback Deshea Townsend missed a bunch of tackles coming up on short passes. And Ike Taylor was giving too much cushion. He was pulled from the game for a play and chewed out by head coach Bill Cowher after giving up back-to-back passes to Matt Jones.

© It's becoming apparent that opposing teams are going to double Hines Ward constantly until the other Steelers receivers prove they can do something to hurt them.

In two games, Cedrick Wilson has drawn more pass interference penalties -- two -- than he has catches -- one. And that one catch came late in the fourth quarter Monday night meaning Wilson played seven quarters without catching a pass.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wasn't sharp and threw some bad balls Monday night. But the receivers didnt give him a lot of help, either.

Wilson is getting very little separation from opposing defensive backs, hence the extra contact he's drawing for the pass interference calls.

At some point, Nate Washington has to push Wilson out of the starting lineup.

© After he very nearly muffed another punt in the first quarter, I'm pretty sure we've seen the last of Ricardo Colclough as a punt returner.

The question is, what took so long?

Then again, Santonio Holmes didnt exactly light things up returning punts after Colclough's near muff, allowing several kicks to drop inside the 10 rather than fielding them and coming up for one fair catch.

Cowher said Tuesday Reid will not be active again this week when the team plays Cincinnati.

Did Reid get caught with his hand in the cookie jar or something?

© Speaking of punters, Chris Gardocki was the Steelers MVP in this game, dropping five of his eight punts inside the 20 and kicking very well when backed up in his own territory.

The coverage units were also much better with Anthony Smith and Colclough serving as the gunners on punts. Their hustle down the field caused a lot of those balls to be fair caught.

© Monday night's loss is nothing a victory Sunday against Cincinnati wouldn't cure. Then again, a loss Sunday to Cincinnati would put the Steelers in a pretty big hole just three games into the season and have them searching for answers heading into their bye week.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Davenport hungry

Speaking with Najeh Davenport for the first time today since his signing by the Steelers Friday, I was struck by how hungry he is to show Green Bay that it was wrong to let him go.

Getting cut by a team that is quite possibly the worst team in football will do that to you.

Davenport feels he has plenty to prove after his release by the hapless Packers and he feels he'll fit right into the Steelers' running scheme.

We could find out as soon as Monday because Davenport will likely be active when the Steelers play at Jacksonville.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Thoughts from Miami

What hold does Ricardo Colclough have over Bill Cowher? There has to be something.

How else can you explain Cowher putting him back to field a punt after the problems Colclough had fielding punts in training camp?

Colclough looks like Lonnie Smith trying to play center field when he’s back there fielding punts.

I can kind of understand why Cowher would rotate Colclough and Braynt McFadden at cornerback. You have to keep them both ready to play.

But putting Colclough back there for punts is just crazy.

© Ike Taylor shut Chris Chambers out in the first half, holding him without a catch while shadowing him. In fact, Chambers really didn’t get going until late in the game, finishing with five catches for 59 yards.

But on the drive home after the game, I heard more than one radio pundit talk about what a bad game Taylor had.

What the heck were they watching?

Yes, he missed an easy interception in the back of the end zone and Miami scored a touchdown on the following play. And yes, he missed a couple of tackles in run support. But Miami finished with 43 yards rushing.

The bottom line is that Taylor kept Chambers off the board, something Miami couldn’t do with Ward.

It’s like basketball. You can’t expect the guy you’ve got covering the other team’s best player in man-to-man defense to also come down and score 20 points as well. It doesn’t work that way. Let him shut down the other team’s top gun and be happy if he gets you a basket here or there.

© The offensive line’s blocking was spotty, at best, especially in pass blocking. But that was because Miami was mixing things up defensively like New England plays against the Steelers, giving them various looks.

In fact, the Dolphins were defending the Steelers like the Steelers play defense. You saw what that did to Daunte Culpepper, who looked confused for much of the game.

© Special teams play was a problem. You’d hate to think Chidi Iwuoma and Willie Reid would mean that much to this team and that the problems were due to the group not having a lot of playing time together in the preseason.

Then again, you can bet Iwuoma and Reid will be active when the Steelers line up to play Jacksonville.

© Where’s the love for Nate Washington now?

© Speaking of love, Joey Porter professed his for Cowher following the game. This after Porter laid a smooch on Cowher following the linebacker’s interception return for a touchdown.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

© Antwaan Randle El would have been caught from behind had he been on the receiving end of the pass Heath Miller took 87 yards for a touchdown. Cedrick Wilson didn’t catch a pass, while Miller – who actually was the Steelers’ second-leading receiver last year – had three catches for 101 yards and Washington had two for 32 and also ran a reverse for eight yards.

I guess they didn't need Randle El as much as everyone thought.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Veteran replacements

Who will the Steelers look to as a replacement for Ben Roethlisberger while he's out?

Omar Jacobs is out. In fact, the team may release Jacobs from the practice squad to make room for whomever they cut from the active roster to make room for the veteran QB they sign.

Who might that veteran be?

Tommy Maddox and Brian St. Pierre are possibilities, though both burned some bridges when they left here.

Jay Fiedler, Shaun King or Todd Bauman are also possibilities, as are the over-the-hill gang of Vinny Testaverde and Jeff Blake.

The bottom line is that there just isn't a lot out there right now. Roethlisberger had better get well quickly.

Practice squad

The Steelers' practice squad has no real surprises as the team re-signed a bunch of players who were with them in training camp.

Tight end John Dekker, defensive linemen Orien Harris and Shaun Nua, running backs Cedric and John Kuhn, quarterbacks Omar Jacobs, cornerback Anthony Madison, offensive lineman Brandon Torrey and wide receiver Marvin Allen were signed by the team to complete its practice squad.

As I said, no real surprises, though Kuhn is listed as a fullback despite the fact that the next person he blocks will be the first. Then again, Dekker is listed as a tight end and he can't block either.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Steelers deal for RB

Looking to bolster their depth at running back, the Steelers pulled off a deal with the New England Patriots Friday for rookie Patrick Cobbs, the AFC’s second-leading rusher in the preseason.

The 5-9, 210-pound Cobbs, who led the NCAA in rushing in 2003 at North Texas, was acquired for a conditional draft pick in 2007.

What that means about the future of running back Duce Staley remains to be seen.

Staley led the team in rushing in the preseason with 92 yards, but took 42 carries to do so, an average of just 2.2 yards per attempt. His long carry in the preseason was six yards as the 10-year veteran looked sluggish.

The Steelers had hoped that the 5-11, 242-pound Staley would fill the role of short-yardage back that Jerome Bettis held last year behind starter Willie Parker.

Though he’s just 5-9, 210 pounds, Cobbs could fill that role. A former high school power lifting champion, Cobbs led the NCAA in rushing in 2003 with 1,680 yards on 307 carries. He also scored 19 touchdowns. He suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2004, but came back in 2005 to gain 1,154 yards and score six touchdowns while sharing time with Jamario Thomas, the 2004 NCAA rushing leader.

Cobbs finished his college career as North Texas’ all-time leading rusher with 4,050 yards. He holds the North Texas and Sun Belt Conference career records for rushing yards, rushing touchdowns (36), rushing attempts (818) and all-purpose yards (5,255).

Cobbs also excelled in the Patriots’ four preseason games, finishing second in the AFC in rushing with 188 yards and three touchdowns on 38 carries. He also caught seven passes for 115 yards and another score.

Staley by default?

Duce Staley and Bill Cowher both spoke after Thursday’s preseason loss to the Carolina Panthers as if there was nothing wrong with the Pittsburgh Steelers running back.

If they really think that, neither is as smart as I’ve given them credit for.

It’s obvious Staley is no longer hitting the hole like he once did. Heck, he’s not even hitting the hole like Jerome Bettis once did and Bettis was never exactly quick into the hole.

What Bettis did have, was that wiggle to go along with the power to do something even if he didn’t exactly get to the hole that was there.

We did see a little bit of power running out of Staley against the Panthers. More often than not, he drove forward through the tackle. But there were times when a faster running back would have taken the ball for a nice gain and Staley rumbled forward for a two-yard gain.

The question is, can the Steelers live with that in their backup running back?

The thinking here is yes, unless a better option comes along.

John Kuhn didn’t help distinguish himself by fumbling for the second time in this preseason, while Cedric Humes just hasn’t shown enough to be a better option than Staley.

Carolina’s Eric Shelton is rumored to be on his way out and ran well against the Steelers, but he was a second-round pick last year. The Steelers would likely have to work out some kind of trade to get him since they probably wouldn’t get a shot at him in waivers.

Nehemiah Broughton is another guy the Steelers liked last year when he was coming out of college who may not have a spot on Washington’s roster this season with the team’s trade for T.J. Duckett.

© Arnold Harrison may have won himself a job on this team with his performance against the Panthers.

Harrison had played well during this preseason and put the exclamation point on that by recording eight tackles and two sacks – along with a special teams tackle – against the Panthers.

It may help matters that Richard Seigler, who was also pushing for a spot, was in a walking boot after the game. That injury may allow the Steelers to sneak Seigler through waivers or even put him on injured reserve if they so choose.

© Harrison wasn’t the only young linebacker who did good things Thursday night. The team’s four leading tacklers in the game were Rian Wallace (9), Harrison and Andre Frazier (8) and Seigler (6).

Not bad for a team who was questioned for not taking a linebacker in the draft.

© Chris Kemoeatu continues to impress with his aggressiveness, but sometimes his nature gets the best of him.

His offensive facemask penalty on a play on which Kuhn fumbled got him a good tongue lashing from Cowher.

© I don’t think it matters who Cowher names the starter at free safety. They are only keeping the position warm for Anthony Smith, who continued to show off his skills as a big hitter against the Panthers.

When will that move come? Maybe as soon as the bye week.

© Did Omar Jacobs win a spot on the 53-man roster with his performance Thursday?


It’s more likely the team will still try to sneak him onto the practice squad, but Jacobs’ performance may have made that move a little more difficult. Before Thursday’s game, the Steelers could have put Jacobs on the practice squad and not worried about him getting picked up by anyone else. Now, who knows?

At the very least, Jacobs threw his name into the mix to stay on the 53-man roster. He also probably saved himself a phone call at least until Saturday. He won’t be among Friday’s cuts.

© I like the signing of Willie Parker to what should turn out to be a bargain deal.

Parker is going to have a big season both running with and catching the ball and would have cost the Steelers much more than what they paid him after this season.

It’s too bad cornerback Ike Taylor didn’t realize he would have saved himself a lot of sleepless nights by taking a similar deal. Taylor has to realize he is in a similar situation to Parker.

No matter how good they were last season, they have still only done it for one year. Sure, he’s confident in his ability to play well again.

But if he does indeed like Pittsburgh as much as he says, he has to realize the team wasn’t going to break the bank to sign him – not with the bank-breaking contracts the team is going to have to pay safety Troy Polamalu and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the near future.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Clark speaks out

Speaking with safety Ryan Clark Monday about the battle for the starting free safety position, he expressed a lot of frustration with the process. Read more about it in Tuesday's Observer-Reporter.

The Steelers released eight players Monday to trim their roster to the NFL-mandated minimum of 75. Among the rookies released were safety Zach Baker, kicker Mark Brubaker, offensive tackle Nick Hagemann and guard Grayling Love.

Also released were fullback Doug Easlick, center Kyle Andrews, linebacker Malcolm Postell and wide receiver Isaac West.

NFL teams must trim their rosters to 53 players by 6 p.m. Saturday.

Linebacker Joey Porter was absent from practice Monday while dealing with tonsillitis. He is expected back today.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Streets of Philadelphia

Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor wants to stay in Pittsburgh, but he wants an eight-digit signing bonus to do so.

But if Taylor, who will be an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of this season, wants to be paid like one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL, he’d better start playing like one.

Not that Taylor isn’t solid in coverage, coming up to support the run and all of the other things the Steelers ask of their cornerbacks. In those areas, Taylor isn’t lacking.

But there’s a reason why an aging cornerback like Ty Law can hang around the NFL so long and still command big salaries and why, at this point, Taylor cannot. Law had 10 interceptions last season. Taylor had one.

Case and point why the Steelers are not going to give Taylor the kind of signing bonus he desires – even if somebody else may – came during the opening drive by the Eagles in their 16-7 preseason win over the Steelers.

Taylor got his hands on two Donovan McNabb passes in the first quarter, both of which came in Pittsburgh territory. He dropped both and insted of coming away with nothing, the Eagles went on to kick a field goal.

Taylor had excellent coverage on both plays. But if he truly wants to reach that next level as a corner, he’s got to catch those balls.

Here are some other thoughts from Friday’s preseason game:

© Taylor wasn’t the only player on the Steelers’ first-team defense who wasn’t exactly in midseason form.

Pittsburgh’s vaunted run defense wasn’t exactly up to snuff. Correll Buckhalter had 28 yards on six carries working against the first-team defense on Philadelphia’s first two possessions, breaking some tackles along the way.

The defense also missed several tackles in the secondary after catches.

Despite what many think, head coach Bill Cowher doesn’t exactly run a tough training camp and there’s not a lot of hitting.

It showed Friday night.

© When the Steelers selected Anthony Smith with the first of their two third-round draft picks – and second-overall selection – many wondered about the pick. That was especially true considering there were several big-name safeties still on the draft board at that point.

Three games into this preseason, nobody is questioning the Steelers’ selection of Smith any longer. Now, they are wondering exactly when Cowher is going to stop messing around with Ryan Clark and Tyrone Carter at free safety and insert Smith into the starting lineup.

That may indeed happen at some point this season. But in the meantime, Smith is going to continue making plays as he did Friday night on punt coverage, timing his hit up perfectly to level Philadelphia return man J.R. Reed. That one will go down as one of the hits of the year even though it happened in the preseason.

© Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is hooking up with running back Willie Parker quite a bit in the passing game this preseason. Playing just one series, Parker had three carries and three catches.

Part of the reason for that was to help slow Philadelphia’s pass rush, which the offensive line was having trouble with.

But Parker is going to be a huge part of the offense this season.

© Any thoughts the Steelers had about keeping a third quarterback were quickly erased when Cowher had to watch Omar Jacobs and Shane Boyd stumble around the field again against the Eagles.

At this point, there’s no guarantee either of those two will even make the practice squad. Drew Henson was released by Dallas earlier this week. He’s got to be better than Jacobs and Boyd.

© Chris Gardocki averaged 46.0 yards on his two punts, placing one inside the 20. Mike Barr saw his only kick sail 53 yards.

Barr was the holder on Jeff Reed’s first field goal attempt, a 50-yard attempt on which Barr appeared to have trouble getting the ball down clean.

Gardocki held on Reed’s successful PAT in the first half and for his 47-yard field goal attempt in the second half. Reed missed that one, but it did not appear to be because of a poor hold.

It appears that Barr may be a little bit better punter than Gardocki, but Gardocki is a better holder. Advantage Gardocki.

© The Steelers finally got a chance to run Duce Staley in a short-yardage situation, but the second-team offensive line and fullback John Kuhn forgot to block anybody on the play.

That’s not to say Staley would have succeeded in the fourth-and-one situation, but he really didn’t have a chance on that one.

© Staley finished with 21 yards on 11 carries. Verron Haynes had 15 yards on five attempts.

The Steelers should be scouring the waiver wire once the cuts start happening to look for a possible third quarterback and another running back.

© Ricardo Colclough, meet Greg Lewis. Greg Lewis, meet Ricardo Colclough and welcome to the end zone.

Bryant McFadden had to be looking at Colclough chasing Lewis to the end zone and wondering exactly what he has to do to beat that guy out.

© For some reason, the Steelers feel that Jonathan Dekker is their third-best tight end.

After watching him bat down a Charlie Batch pass in the first half like it was on fire, fail to block anybody on Staley’s fourth-down attempt and then get lit up in the fourth quarter on another catch attempt, I, for the life of me, can’t figure out why.

Cripes, what’s Matt Cushing doing these days?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

And then there were none

Here is it good readers, the final practice report of this, the 2006 training camp of the defending world champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

For those of you who are new to this blog, reporters are permitted into the team’s practices during at their offices on the South Side. We’re just not allowed to give you a detailed report of what happens like we are from training camp.

I'll still be blogging throughout the season with whatever info I dig up here or there, but detailed practice reports are out until next year.

So without any further ado, here is what happened at today’s session here at Saint Vincent College:

With Deshea Townsend out with a broken right thumb, Ricardo Colclough was surprisingly in the starting lineup. Apparently it was not only a surprise to the media, but to second-year corner Bryant McFadden as well.

“I guess it’s out of my hands,” said an obviously disappointed McFadden. “Coach (Bill) Cowher told me after practice that it didn’t have anything to do with my play. That he was just making this move based on feel. I’m disappointed. I’m a competitor and I want to be out there as much as possible. But there’s nothing I can do but play football when I do get out there.”

The team practiced in shells only today as it spent most of the session preparing for Friday night’s preseason game at Philadelphia.

As he has done for a good part of the last two weeks, right guard Kendall Simmons took some snaps at center, with Chris Kemoeatu moving into the starting lineup at guard. Simmons, however, had his first miscue at center, as he and second-string quarterback Charlie Batch botched a snap.

There were also some changes in the second team offensive line, as Trai Essex slid back outside to left tackle, with Kemoeatu playing left guard, rookie Marvin Philip at center, Barrett Brooks at right guard and rookie Willie Colon at right tackle. Colon looked out of place at left tackle last week and the team is likely readying Essex to fill the third tackle spot while also getting Kemoeatu prepared to be the third guard.

Strong safety Troy Polamalu, sporting a nifty pair of green and gray argyle socks throughout practice, made an outstanding diving interception in the end zone when the team began working on 7-on-7 red zone with the first team offense against the first team defense.

Colclough, apparently wearing a pair of shorts that was too big, stripped down to his undershorts for one play before Townsend gave him his shorts, causing several guys on the sidelines to yell, “Thanks Shea.” Thanks Shea indeed.

Linebacker James Farrior tipped a Ben Roethlisberger pass intended for tight end Heath Miller and the ball caromed into the air just in front of the goal posts. Polamalu came from at least 10 yards away to make the diving pick.

Roethlisberger rebounded, though, throwing TD passes to Nate Washington and Cedrick Wilson. Washington’s TD came working against safety Ryan Clark and corner Chidi Iwuoma. Wilson’s catch came with safety Mike Logan draped over his back.

Lee Mays had a nice one-handed grab along the sidelines from Omar Jacobs, while Santonio Holmes made a beautiful grab in traffic at the goal line from Jacobs for a score.

The team was very loose today in its final full practice of this training camp. With just a walkthrough Thursday, the road race back to Pittsburgh will begin around noon.

Wide receivers Hines Ward and Isaac West, tight end Jerame Tuman and center Chukky Okobi joined Townsend on the sidelines, though Okobi again centered for the 7-on-7 drills.

I hope you all have enjoyed your daily looks into training camp and I hope you continue to stop by as I offer tips on what I'm seeing around the NFL.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

As the jaw juts

The Pittsburgh Steelers held their next-to-last full practice of this training camp here at Saint Vincent College and head coach Bill Cowher was less than pleased with how things went.

Cowher called the team together in the middle of the practice field for several minutes Tuesday in the middle of the session after a sluggish effort by the team in the 7-on-7 passing drills and an earlier team portion.

Things picked up considerably after Cowher’s tongue lashing as the intensity level, in particular, rose. With the end of camp in sight, Cowher said he just had a little heart-to-heart with the team about their current state as he sees it.

Wide receiver Hines Ward again tried to practice today but was still unable to complete the practice. His status for Friday’s preseason game in Philadelphia is very doubtful, though he said he’ll try to practice again Wednesday.

Linebacker James Harrison had his foot stepped on during position drills and was carted off for X-rays, which came back negative. Harrison later returned to practice.

Part of the reason for Cowher’s heart-to-heart talk was no doubt the mistakes some of the rookies are still making.

On one play of prep for the Philadelphia game, quarterback Omar Jacobs turned the wrong way on a handoff, going to his right while the offensive line and running back Duce Staley went left. Cowher had the team re-huddle and run the play again.

Later in the 7-on-7 drills, wide receiver Santonio Holmes turned out toward the sidelines when quarterback Charlie Batch threw a hook to the inside. Corner Bryant McFadden easily picked off the pass.

Rookie tight end Jonathan Dekker then dropped an easy pass over the middle with nobody around him, a play that was quickly followed up by rookie running back Cedric Humes dropping a ball in the flats with nobody around him.

After another session of game prep, the team worked on some red zone offense and defense. The standouts from that were Ben Roethlisberger overthrowing a wide open Cedrick Wilson on a flag pattern. Wilson had beaten corner Anthony Madison. Holmes made a nice adjustment for a touchdown from Batch, coming back for the ball. Deshea Townsend picked off Shane Boyd on a pass for Lee Mays. Running back John Kuhn fumbled on a short-yardage run.

In a one-minute drill at the end of practice, the first team offense and defense lined up against each other, with the offense prevailing as Roethlisberger moved the team into field goal range at the 32.

Defensive end Aaron Smith nearly picked off a screen pass to Verron Haynes on the second play of the drive. Roethlisberger and Wilson also failed to connect on a long TD pass after Wilson had gotten behind McFadden with a double move and a Roethlisberger pump fake. Wilson appeared to lose the ball in the sun.

Boyd didn’t last long in his attempt at the hurry-up. Throwing an interception to rookie safety Anthony Smith to end practice on his third pass attempt.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Feeling Minnesota

Is it just me, or did the Steelers always seem to have problems with Chester Taylor when he was in Baltimore as well?

And while we’re on the subject of Taylor, why on earth would you trade one purple uniform for another. Gack!

© Ryan Clark looked a lot like Chris Hope at free safety against the Vikings. He came up strong a few times, but also missed some tackles.

No wonder head coach Bill Cowher doesn’t feel the team will miss a beat without Hope in there.

© You Nate Washington doubters out there can start writing your apology notes any time now. The kid’s going to be a factor this season.

© The Steelers’ battle for a possible third tight end position is looking embarrassing.

Fifth-round draft pick Charles Davis looks like Tarzan, but plays like Jane.

Jon Dekker keeps getting run over like a boy playing with men.

And if Isaac Smolko played Saturday, he didn’t make himself apparent in doing so.

Right now, the top candidate for that third tight end spot is offensive lineman Trai Essex. Essex did go to Northwestern as a tight end before going on the cheese pizza diet.

© Branden Joe played a lot against the Vikings, not only in as the team’s second fullback, but also on special teams. Right now, I’d say he’s the frontrunner to be the team’s fifth running back, especially after delivering some solid blows as a wedge buster.

© Speaking of wedge busters, Chris Kemoeatu delivered the blow of the game working as a buster of the wedge, driving his man five yards backward - in the air - on a second quarter kickoff.

© The Steelers are going to only keep two quarterbacks. Omar Jacobs and Shane Boyd were pretty bad again Saturday – though Jacobs did show a little promise despite having to call a timeout on the second play of the third quarter. The only thing they had going for them was that the Vikings’ Mike McMahon played in the game as well. McMahon is awful.

It just goes to show, you can find a guy like that to be your third quarterback anywhere.

The bet here is that the Steelers put Jacobs on their practice squad and if somebody else signs him, the Steelers won’t mind. At least they won’t have to deal with looking at that funky release any more.

© Tarvaris Jackson, now there’s a young quarterback to develop. Minnesota got ripped for trading two third round picks to the Steelers for a second round selection with which they took Jackson.

Seems like a trade that will work out for both teams. The Vikings got a kid who looks like their QB of the future. The Steelers got Anthony Smith and Willie Reid.

© Keeping two quarterbacks and two tight ends makes it easier for the Steelers to keep guys like linebackers Arnold Harrison and Richard Seigler or Joe.

© I had questions about Travis Kirschke’s status earlier in this training camp. I don’t any longer. Right now, he and Chris Hoke are the only two backup defensive linemen worth anything.

Rodney Bailey, Shaun Nua and Orien Harris look overmatched, while Lee Vickers appears to have fallen completely out of the picture.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Roethlisberger will play

It appears as though Ben Roethlisberger will play in tonight's preseason game against Minnesota.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Afternoon delight

The last two-a-day practice now over, the Steelers ran off to their families after what Coach Bill Cowher called two great days of practice.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hit his hand on a shoulder pad on the second-to-last play of which he particiapted, but Cowher believes it to be a minor injury. That won't stop the local TV stations from breaking into their re-runs of Family Feud with a news flash, however, so beware.

The practices have gotten better for the most part, but there are certainly some players separating themselves from the pack in the battle for the final few roster spots.

Linebacker Arnold Harrison continues to flash from his outside spot and was the star of what will likely be the last back-on-backs drill of this camp.

Harrison, doing his best James Harrison impression, hit rookie tight end Charles Davis so hard he not only jarred his helmet off, he knocked a contact out of his eye. Harrison then finished the drill on his last chance by beating starting running back Willie Parker.

In the battle of mouths, Verron Haynes beat Joey Porter, but not before Porter pushed the quarterback for the drill, none other than Cowher. Not to be outdone, James Harrison bumped into Cowher two plays later. No respect for the outgoing coach, perhaps?

Santonio Holmes, Willie Reid, Quincy Morgan and Ricardo Colclough were the deep men when the team worked on kickoff returns and coverage.

During scout team drills, Roethlisberger and Nate Washington made rookie corner Anthony Madison look silly as the quarterback rolled to his right and Washington took off down the sideline. Madison stayed at home and Washington caught the ball 15 yards behind him for an easy score.

Later, with a pass eerily similar to the one Tom Brady threw against the Steelers in the AFC Championship two years ago to Deion Branch, Roethlisberger hooked up with Cedrick Wilson deep working against Chidi Iwuoma.

Apparently feeling sorry for beleaguered cornerback Colclough, Shane Boyd took matters into his own hands, rolled to his right on one play and threw the ball directly to Colclough, who was in zone coverage with no one else around. By the way, Colclough looks much more comfortable in zone coverage than in man. That was stressed a couple of plays later when Willie Reid burned Colclough down the sideline for a nice gain on a well-thrown pass by Omar Jacobs.

During the final team session, Holmes showed a little hotdog when he caught a deep pass working against Anthony Smith and Bryant McFadden. Holmes reached up on the run and took the ball away from Smith, then held the ball aloft as he ran into the end zone. Better watch that one kid.

Boyd ran the only one-minute drill at the end of practice and successfully maneuvered the team into field-goal range. There was not a second-team one-minute drill.

Sean Morey missed practice and has a cast on his left hand. Cowher said it's nothing serious and that Morey should be back Thursday. Since he's not expected to catch the ball anyway, playing with a cast shouldn't be a problem.

Hines Ward, Jerame Tuman, Duce Staley and Clint Kriewaldt also sat out practice; Ward and Tuman with hamstring injuries; Staley and Kriewaldt to rest their tired bones.

A couple of other observerations: Cedrick Humes still runs too high and is going to get his head taken off; Lee Vickers just isn't physical enough to play at this level. He has the athleticism, but needs to put on more muscle; The next guy to block James Harrison one- on-one on a regular basis will be the first; and Trai Essex looked good in one-on-one blocking drills today, maybe the best of all the second-string linemen.

Last two-a-day

Sorry for nothing yesterday. Seemed to have been a problem with the blogger company.

Coming off his best practice of this training camp here at Saint Vincent College, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Quincy Morgan apparently felt he had done enough.

He took the morning off Wednesday as the Steelers completed the first session of their last two-a-day of this training camp.

We won’t know until later on this afternoon what Morgan’s ailment was. Maybe he was told he would no longer get to line up opposite Ricardo Colclough.

Colclough picked up where he left off Tuesday afternoon as two of the team’s first four plays of red zone 9-on-7 went for touchdowns to receivers working against the beleaguered corner.

The first was a nice pass by Ben Roethlisberger to Nate Washington on the second play of the series – Deshea Townsend had picked off Roethlisberger’s first attempt, a pass to Cedrick Wilson. Colclough was a good two steps behind Washington on the pass.

The next play was another touchdown, this one a Roethlisberger pass to rookie tight end Charles Davis on a corner route. Davis was so open that it was a stretch to single out any one player who was supposed to be covering him.

Charlie Batch then came on and found rookie receiver Willie Reid working against Colclough for a score. Reid really has a chance to be something special in this league with his speed and instincts. It may not happen this season, but the kid could wind up being better than first-round pick Santonio Holmes.

Batch followed up that touchdown pass by finding tight end Isaac Smolko in the end zone working against linebacker Rian Wallace.

Batch then looked Reid’s direction again, this time rolling to his right. Reid broke off his route, stopped on a dime and came back across the end zone for a TD in front of the goal post.

Omar Jacobs was up next and he hooked up with Lee Mays at the corner of the pylon, just slipping a pass past Ike Taylor for a score. Taylor was in good position on the play, but Jacobs put the ball in a spot where only Mays could catch it.

Walter Young completed the offense’s scoring in the drill by going up over rookie Anthony Madison to pull in a touchdown pass from Shane Boyd.

It was the only highlight of the day for Young, who also dropped a pair of easily catchable passes from Jacobs later in team drills.

Linebacker Clark Haggans returned to practice after taking Tuesday off for personal reasons. In addition to Morgan, also not practicing were wide receivers Hines Ward and Isaac West and tight end Jerame Tuman.

Center Chukky Okobi looked better than anyone should expect a guy who had neck surgery last week to look. Okobi was practicing coming out of a stance during the session and even bobbed his head to the music - presumable his own rap CD – playing on his digital player.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Post-game wrap

The Steelers lost their preseason opener at Arizona Saturday night. But there was plenty more to look at other than the outcome of the game. First and foremost was the play of running back Willie Parker.

Much of the focus from Saturday's opening preseason game was on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s performance and rightfully so.

But as good as Roethlisberger looked Saturday, Willie Parker was the player who caught my eye.

Parker only got three carries in the Steelers' 21-13 loss at Arizona, but they were three impressive carries for 12 yards. He also made a big 7-yard catch off of a scramble by Roethlisberger.

What impressed me about Parker? His patience waiting for a hole to develop. That was something that wasn't always evident with Parker last season when he often just took the ball and ran as fast as he could.

That was something that drove the coaching staff in North Carolina crazy and was something they couldn't Parker to do. Now, Parker is watching and waiting, turning on the jets only after the hole opens up.

A little maturity goes a long way.

He's going to have a huge season.

• Mike Barr averaged a healthy 49.0 yards per attempt on his three punts. Chris Gardocki boomed his lone kick 59 yards.

A little competition goes a long way.

I'm still convinced Gardocki is the better holder of the two and that will be the deciding factor as to which punter makes the final roster.

• Any question as to how Brett Keisel would hold up against the run was erased when he blew up Arizona's first running play of the game.

Keisel will be fine.

But replacing Keisel as a backup could be problematic.

The Steelers went with Travis Kirschke and Rodney Bailey as the second-team defensive ends against the Cardinals and they made J.J. Arrington look like he was the second coming of Edgerrin James. Kirshke's back remains problematic and Bailey's injury history since leaving the Steelers a couple of years ago is as well.

The third-team ends, Shaun Nua and Lee Vickers, got pushed around late in the game like they were on skates. Both look like they need to put on more weight.

• I wasn't nearly as concerned with some of the third-and-long conversions as KDKA color analyst Edmund Nelson seemed to be.

It being preseason and all, the Steelers did very little blitzing and got little pressure on Kurt Warner when he was in there. History has shown that if you hit Warner a couple of times, he folds.

History has also shown that the Steelers will get pressure on the quarterback when the games start to count.

• What the heck was Ricardo Colclough doing back deep for the first two kickoffs? Was he providing veteran leadership? Hadn’t he made his quota for dropped kicks for the week?

• Santonio Holmes caught four passes for 32 yards, while Willie Reid had four receptions for 30. Those aren't exactly impressive numbers, but both young wideouts had big catches on third down and showed they could be factors this season.

• Cedrick Wilson needs to worry more about catching the ball and less about getting the officials' attention when he feels he's been interfered with.

On the opening play of the second quarter, Arizona corner Antrell Rolle obviously interfered with Wilson along the sideline.

The ball was still in the air and Wilson was already waiving for a flag. Rolle, meanwhile, nearly picked off the ball, which Wilson was paying no attention to.

It was something Wilson also did at times last season and it annoyed me.

What if Rolle had picked off the ball there and the officials hadn’t thrown the flag?

Wilson needs to see the play through its completion before he starts looking for the flag. You never know when they aren't going to throw it.

• Now we know what the Steelers liked about Anthony Smith.

You can talk about 40 times and all of that. But the kid flat out makes plays.

Will he beat out Tyrone Carter or Ryan Clark for the starting free safety spot? Nope. He's still a little too raw for that this year.
But next season, all bets are off.

• Play-by-play guy Bob Pompeani actually said at one point that Willie Colon was the best lineman in the Hofstra offense last season. I know that Hofstra is a football factory and all, but I'd guess Colon wasn't just the school's best lineman last season, but in school history.

I know that you're searching for things to say when you're doing that job, but come on Pomp, you're better than that.

• Shane Boyd is wearing Tommy Maddox's No. 8 jersey, but he looked a lot more like another former Steelers' QB Saturday. In fact, if Boyd had put on a No. 10 jersey, I'd have sworn I was watching Kordell Stewart play again - without the breakaway speed.

Boyd finished 8 of 16 for 67 yards and an interception and also scrambled four times for 16 yards.

Omar Jacobs, who is battling Boyd for the No. 3 QB position, is still struggling getting in and out of the huddle. I thought Bill Cowher’s head was going to explode when Jacobs failed to get a play off before the two-minute warning at the end of the second half. But the kid has a heck of a lot more upside than Boyd.

Boyd wasn't any better in his clock management at the end of the first half. He threw an interception that was negated by an illegal hands to the face penalty.

It's only one game, but I'd keep Jacobs over Boyd.

If the Steelers cut Jacobs, he'd likely be picked up by another team. If they cut Boyd, nobody is likely to do so.

• Richard Siegler will soon move ahead of Rian Wallace on the team's depth chart at inside linebacker. Sigler, a 49ers' castoff, is outstanding in coverage and just looks more explosive than Wallace, a fifth-round draft pick last year.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Final tuneup

I focused on the team's rotation on the defensive line today at practice since that appears to be shaping up as one of the tougher cuts for the Steelers this year.

Defensive end Travis Kirshke sat out the practice presumably with his bothersome back. It’s getting to be a habit and he’s really opening the door for somebody to beat him out.

Rodney Bailey and Shaun Nua worked as the ends on the second-team defense, with Lee Vickers also seeing some snaps there.

Vickers and Orien Harris worked as the third-team ends, with Scott Paxson on the nose. It seems to be a sign that Vickers may be ahead of Harris at this point. Either that, or it’s a sign that Vickers is pushing Nua, whom he replaced at right end on the second Okie when he came in.

Bailey was on the nose in the team’s No. 2 quarter defense and may be moving past Kirshke in the battle for a backup position. The team figures to keep at least one of the two veterans, but probably not both.

Linebacker Joey Porter, who had said Wednesday that he would take things slowly in his comeback from offseason knee surgery, felt confident enough to go out and run pretty much a full practice schedule.

Porter returned to the first-team defense during 11-on-11 drills, though he did sit out the last portion of practice when the team was working on some things it would do against Arizona.

Ben Roethlisberger looked great in the 7-on-7 red zone, completing all four of his passes, three for touchdowns. Two of those scores went to Nate Washington, the first against linebacker Clark Haggans, the second against safety Mike Logan. Both passes were over the middle in front of the goal post and Washington made leaping catches both times.

Roethlisberger’s third TD pass went to Quincy Morgan, who had a couple of drops today. Roethlisberger made a nice pump fake and hit Morgan on a slant against Bryant McFadden.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Hump day

A crowd of 24,000 was on hand to witness the spectacle that has become a Pittsburgh Steelers practice here at Saint Vincent College Wednesday night.

The crowd on hand was treated to linebacker Joey Porter’s return to the football field for the first time in pads since his offseason knee surgery.

Porter worked only in the team seven-on-seven passing drills, sometimes simulating a pass rush, other times dropping back into coverage.

The Pro Bowl linebacker looked good dropping back and made some nice cuts. He seems to be on schedule to return to full practice, maybe as early as next week.

Other good news included head coach Bill Cowher informing the throng of media in attendance that center Chukky Okobi’s injury isn’t as serious as initially thought. Okobi had surgery Wednesday morning and will only be out four to eight weeks. The initial prognosis had been the season and maybe a career-ending injury.

Hines Ward continued to sit out with his sore left hamstring and was joined by Issac West (bone bruise), tackle Trai Essex (groin) and fullback Branden Joe. Joe was a new addition to the injury list. He’s out with a hamstring pull.

Guard Kendall Simmons took some snaps at center with Charlie Batch before practice, but head coach Bill Cowher said that it was solely in case of a rainy day.

Center Tim Brown worked at left guard with the second team line in place of Essex, while Willie Colon slid back over to right tackle today as the team worked on some different things to prepare for its game Saturday at Arizona. Barrett Brooks was at left tackle. Chris Kemoeatu was the right guard, while rookie Marvin Philip was the center.

Tyrone Carter was the starting free safety with the first-team defense, while the second-team defensive line consisted of Rodney Bailey, Shaun Nua and Chris Hoke. Where Travis Kirshke fits into the equation remains to be seen.

The hit of the day belonged to linebacker James Harrison (who else?). Harrison feigned covering a slot receiver against the scout team and blitzed, running through rookie running back Cedric Humes, who was knocked to his back.

Humes, however, seems to be running harder since his tongue lashing by Cowher earlier this week.

Rookie Santonio Holmes is still plagued by an occasional drop, but had a nice leaping catch from Charlie Batch along the sideline.

Not to be outdone, rookie Willie Reid, who has, by my unofficial count, failed to drop a pass this entire camp, made a beautiful leaping catch of an underthrown pass from Omar Jacobs working against Ike Taylor. Reid’s a keeper.

Shayne Boyd threw the only pick in the practice moments later, hitting linebacker Clint Kreiwaldt in the stomach at the goal line. The pass was so errant it was hard to figure out who it was to.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Tuesday afternoon

he Pittsburgh Steelers were dealt ther first major injury blow Tuesday when they learned center Chukky Okobi may be lost for the season because of a ruptured disk in his neck.

Steelers head coach Bill Cowher said the injury, which occured sometime last week and has been bothering the backup center for the past week, may even be career-threatening.

Because of the injury to Okobi, rookie Marvin Philip takes a step up the depth chart and even saw time with the first team offense Wednesday afternoon.

Philip has looked good at times and the team likes his potential. He was center for both groups in the two-minute offense drill and looked to have some problems with his long snaps.

Hines Ward tried to return to practice early, but left after some team drills as his hamstring is still tight. Cowher said it wasn’t a setback, however, and that Ward was just seeing how things felt.

Cowher did say that linebacker Joey Porter will likely be activated off the PUP list Wednesday and will practice for the first time in this camp. Porter has been out since having offseason knee surgery.

Of note are the fact that Mike Barr again worked with Jeff Reed as a holder and we’ve now learned he has a legitimate shot of beating out Chris Gardocki for the punting job.

Also, Rian Wallace’s spot as the team’s fourth inside linebacker is also in jeopardy from Richard Sielger, who has surpassed him on the depth chart.

The Steelers head coach was in a better mood today than he was for yesterday afternoon’s session, but did take some time out to yell at defensive linemen Shaun Nua and Rodney Bailey.

“Come on Nua, show me something,” Cowher yelled to Nua moments after chastisting Bailey to, “stay low and come off the ball.”

Both are battling for a backup spot on the defensive line.

On the first play of team 11-on-11 drills, Heath Miller made a beautiful one-handed catch of a Ben Roethlisberger pass in the flats. He took one step, however, and had the ball stripped by James Harrison. Deshea Townsend picked the ball up and easily scored.

On the ensuing play, Roethlisberger threw deep to Cedrick Wilson, but was intercepted by Troy Polamalu, who made a nice over the shoulder running catch.

Rookie wideout Santonio Holmes continues to have his ups and downs.

On one play, he dropped a perfect pass down the sideline from Charlie Batch. On the next play, seemingly the same pattern on the other side of the field, Holmes caught the pass.

The play of the day belonged to Ike Taylor, who made a leaping deflection of what appeared to be a perfect Batch pass to tight end Charles Davis near the front corner of the end zone.

Shane Boyd and Omar Jacobs ran the two-minute offenses, with neither leading their unit to a score.

Boyd was picked off at the 20 by safety Mike Logan after overthrowing Willie Reid to end the first session.

In the second session, the defense gave Jacobs a little taste of crowd noise getting the fans in attendance to yell as well. The drill ended when Jacobs threw incomplete to Davis on fourth down from the 36.

Monday, August 07, 2006

A new week

After a morning session in which the offense looked to do no wrong, the Steelers got under head coach Bill Cowher's skin Monday afternoon.

At one point, Cowher really dressed down rookie running back Cedric Humes, yelling at seveth-round draft pick for not running hard and looking to see where the defense is at.

Humes may be blowing an opportunity here and really needs to run hard Saturday at Arizona.

After a good start, rookie quarterback Omar Jacobs has been struggling lately.

At one point Monday, on the ensuing play after Cowher had admonished the team, yellling for, "Somebody to hit somebody," Jacobs did just that, hitting linebacker Richard Siegler right in the stomach with the ball for an interception over the middle.

I doin't think that was what the coach had in mind.

Rookie Willie Colon was playing left tackle today and looks to have moved ahead of Trai Essex and Barrett Brooks on the depth chart. Essex will be out at least a week after injuring his groin midway through the afternoon session. Brooks, meanwhile, has problems of his own after his weekend arrest.

Siegler has really flashed in coverage and could make this team as an inside linebacker over Rian Wallace, who is showing very little.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Saturday in the park

With Hines Ward nursing a sore hamstring, Nate Washington to move into the starting lineup opposite Cedrick Wilson and stole the show early in the Saturday practice by making a beautiful over-the-shoulder catch from Ben Roethlisberger for about an 80-yard touchdown pass. Roethlisberger’s pass was a laser and went at least 60 yards in the air as Washington outran Ike Taylor and Ryan Clark deep.

The offense seemed to throw deep a little more often today after settling for short stuff earlier in the week.

Wilson also got deep for a 50-plus yard touchdown pass from Charlie Batch against Deshea Townsend and Troy Polamalu. Polamalu told Townsend it was his fault for not picking up Wilson in coverage.

Lee Mays made a great catch along the sideline on a pass from Omar Jacobs. Mays was working against rookie Anthony Madison, who also drew a flag for illegal contact from the NFL officials who were helping out at the practice.

Jacobs was picked off by Bryant McFadden, who had two interceptions on the day, on a pass over the middle when rookie wide receiver Wiilie Reid fell down.

McFadden later picked off an overthrow by Charlie Batch, who was also going to Reid. It’s possible Reid also cut that pattern too short.

There was one fight in practice today as center Chukky Okobi and linebacker Andre Frazier squared off. Willie Colon, of all people, was trying to play peacemaker in the skirmish.

Frazier looks outstanding in pass rushing drills and just plain mauled Heath Miller in tight end-linebacker drills. He took Miller and put him on his back during the drill. Frazier added 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason and it appears that it was a very good move.

In the goal-line drill, the first-team defense ruled the day again.

Of interest, however, was that Willie Parker’s name has also been thrown into the short-yardage back debate.

Parker got the first two carries in the drill, being stopped for no gain on first down and a gain of three yards on second. Both runs were between the tackles.

Verron Haynes was stopped for a two-yard loss on third down and then failed to get into the end zone on a dive through the line to the 1 on fourth down.

Duce Staley was in the backfield with the second unit, which included linebacker James Harrison at fullback and defensive end Brett Keisel at tight end.

Staley carried for a one-yard gain on first down and Batch threw a four-yard TD pass to Harrison in the front corner of the end zone on second down to get the score. Keisel was also open in the back corner of the end zone on the play.

In addition to Ward, linebacker James Farrior was limited by his sore back Saturday, skipping the team drills. Add wide receiver Isaac West to the list of walking wounded as well. West has a bone bruise in his knee. Linebackers Joey Porter and Mike Kudla, and wide receiver Eugene Baker also remain out.