Team Notes: Pittsburgh Steelers

--Defensive coordinator Tim Lewis could not find much comfort in a statement Coach Bill Cowher recently made. Speaking of the poor performance by Pittsburgh's pass defense last season, Cowher said, "A lot people during the season said, 'Oh, they have to do something about their secondary.' Yeah, we missed a few tackles but some of it was what we did schematically, too. Some of it was bad design."

--The Steelers want to draft a quarterback and it's possible they could use their first pick on one. Florida's Rex Grossman paid them a visit last week and California's Kyle Boller will arrive in town this week. It's possible Grossman could slip to them at No. 27 but they would have to trade way up in the round to get a shot at Boller.

--Many in the organization would like to see them draft Penn State RB Larry Johnson. The Steelers have been set at running back for years but with the status of Jerome Bettis still undecided, they could go for Johnson. Ideally, they hope Bettis, 31, overcomes knee surgery and gets himself into shape so he can play one more season. They could get through another year with a healthy Bettis, with Amos Zereoue and Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala. But they may not have a good read on Bettis' condition by the time of the draft.

--The Steelers privately are enraged over their schedule in November. The NFL sends them to Seattle on Nov. 2. They play at home against Arizona the following week but then must go back to the West Coast for a Monday night game at San Francisco on Nov. 17. They have to play at Cleveland, their bitter AFC North rivals, the following week. The NFL rarely sends a team on the road following a road Monday night game and added insult when they scheduled that Monday night game on the West Coast.

--Pittsburgh opens at home, against Baltimore Sept. 7, for the first time since 2000, when they lost to the Ravens 16-0. They will play the 1,000th game in franchise history against the St. Louis Rams Oct. 26. Two of their three prime-time games are on the road -- at San Francisco and at Baltimore Sunday night Dec. 28, the final NFL game of the regular-season. Their only prime-time home game will occur Oct. 5 against Cleveland on Sunday night.

--Each NFL team is permitted to entertain 20 college players until April. 17. The Steelers sent invitations to 17, more than they've had in town before the draft in years.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "There is nothing wrong with the expectation level, as long as when it's all said and done that we just don't look at it as we did not meet the expectation level, the season was a failure." -- Coach Bill Cowher, reflecting on last season in which the Steelers were AFC favorites to reach the Super Bowl.

Team Skinny: Author: TSX

NEEDS/DRAFT PRIORITIES: DB, LB, QB. 1. Defensive back (either corner or safety, they need younger, better, faster). 2. Linebacker (They need a strong backup on the outside), 3. Quarterback (The last young quarterback they developed was Kordell Stewart).



UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: TE John Allred (not a priority); S Lee Flowers (they will not try to re-sign him); LB Mike Jones (they aren't interested in him); WR Terance Mathis (unlikely to return); P Tom Rouen (was an injury replacement and won't be back).

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: DT Kendrick Clancy (tendered at $605,000 with 3rd-round pick as compensation); DE Clark Haggans (tendered at $605,000 with 5th-round pick as compensation); FB Dan Kreider (tendered at $605,000 with no compensation); CB Hank Poteat (tendered at $605,000 with 3rd-round pick as compensation).


PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: QB Charlie Batch (UFA; $2M/2 yrs, $470,000 SB); TE Matt Cushing (UFA; $530,000/1 yr; 2003 cap: $450,000); TE Jerame Tuman (UFA: $3.3M/3 yrs, $600,000 SB; 2003 cap: $730,000); OG Keydrick Vincent (Potential ERFA; $375,000/1 yr).

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: OT Todd Fordham (UFA Jaguars; $2.4M/3 yrs, $470,000 SB); LB Clint Kriewaldt (UFA $2.38M/3 yrs, $420,000 SB; 2003 cap: $670,000); TE Jay Riemersma (FA Bills; $3.95M/3 yrs, $850,000 SB).

PLAYERS LOST: TE Marco Battaglia (UFA Dolphins; 1 yr, terms unknown); OT Wayne Gandy (UFA Saints; $25M/6 yrs, $5M SB); PK Todd Peterson (cut); QB Kordell Stewart (cut).

MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.

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