Here's the Monday interview with Cowher, with a bonus interview of new assistant coach Darren Perry on first-round pick Troy Polamalu and what it takes to start at safety as a rookie.">
Here's the Monday interview with Cowher, with a bonus interview of new assistant coach Darren Perry on first-round pick Troy Polamalu and what it takes to start at safety as a rookie.">

Monday at mini, er, team school

The Steelers are no longer in coaching sessions, but don't call it minicamp. The official term this year is "team school" and the difference is only one practice a day as opposed to two. Oh, and lunch is free this week and Coach Bill Cowher talks to the media after practice. <br><br> Here's the Monday interview with Cowher, with a bonus interview of new assistant coach Darren Perry on first-round pick Troy Polamalu and what it takes to start at safety as a rookie.


Reporter: Is this a continuation of the coaching sessions or are you adding new things?

Bill Cowher: No, it's like the last four coaching sessions is what it is. With all the rules, they change yearly. We're going to try to take the first three weeks and then take this week, from today to the fourth day, go back to the beginning and go through everything real quick. It's probably more for the benefit of the younger players, to get them acclimated and get them thinking so that by the time they come to camp it'll be maybe the third time they've gone through this and they can start feeling comfortable in the system. So it's really no different than what we've done in the past, except for what we're calling it and the fact we have just the one practice and shortened days today, tomorrow, Wednesday and Thursday.

R: Are you about ready for training camp?

BC: We're getting there. This is part of the process though. You look at a season, as I've told the guys, it's like four stages. You have the offseason, the training camp, the regular season and the postseason. This is a very, very important part of it. This is kind of the foundation. These last four days are very important in how we approach it. As I told them this morning, kind of pick up the pace a little bit these last three days so that we finish strong. We'll complete our first phase, get a sense of where we are, and go into phase two up at training camp.

R: Are you going to limit Troy (Polamalu) this week because of his hamstring?

BC: Yeah. Oh yeah. He's going to be limited. Mike Logan as well. We're going to err on the side of caution, given this time of year, but we're hopeful and we're anticipating everyone ready to go in training camp.

R: So Chris Hope will get an opportunity to play strong and free safety?

BC: Yeah. And it's going to be important. He had to do a little bit of that last year so I don't think it'll be a big burden for him.

R: How much of a concern is Polamalu's hamstring?

BC: I'm not going to be that concerned until training camp. I know that he's getting better and he's doing a little bit more this week. We're just going to deal with it. Hopefully he'll be in camp on time. We'll get the contract ironed out and we'll go from there.

R: Coach, how are you looking at the halfback job between Amos (Zereoue) and Jerome (Bettis)? Is it 50-50?

BC: Well, I don't know if I have any preconceived thoughts going in. I think again it's going to be a case of who's playing the best and try to go with that. I'm the one that usually tries to monitor that but during the course of a game I get caught up in the game. It's just going to be good to have all three of those guys, along with Fu (Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala). You need them all. There's no question. That's been proven. How it unfolds will have a lot to do with how they play.

R: Where does that leave Verron Haynes?

BC: Well, Verron can play fullback, halfback. I think his second year in the system he'll be a lot more comfortable. He can get us something on third down as well. Certainly you can never have enough good, quality backs and we have that right now.

R: Is there uncertainty with Mark Bruener and making a decision after June 1?

BC: Well, as Kevin (Colbert) pretty much stated there was never any need to do anything from a June 1 standpoint with us. We still have to make some decisions. We have to get down to a number for training camp. I just like where our football is right now.

R: Are you surprised with how quickly he's come along?

BC: No. I don't know if it's surprise. I mean, it's good to see. It's certainly something that's been monitored. It's just good to see everybody out here working and I feel good, really, about everybody. Outside of Troy's little setback with the hamstring, Mike Logan is right on track right now and I think we're in good shape.

R: How many can you take to camp?

BC: We've got to take 81. We've got 84 and can only go to camp with 81.


Reporter: Rookies can't start in this defense, right?

Darren Perry: They can't? I had the experience of doing it first hand. There's some truth to that, but at the same time, given the right circumstances, it can happen.

R: Was it all circumstances for you? What went right?

DP: Well basically you have to put a lot of time in your books. In this league, so much of it is mental. The physical ability will get you here but the mental aspect of it will keep you here. It's a learning process.

R: Do you have to be a genius or is it more perseverance?

DP: A little bit of both. The good thing for him is that we have a guy in Brent Alexander who knows the defense pretty doggone well. Usually if you've got one back there that knows it pretty well, he can kind of help the other one along until he gets to the point where he's really comfortable with it. But we won't need Troy to make all the calls back there as you would our free safety, as opposed to when I came in as a rookie. Brent, being our free safety, will be our primary signal-caller. At the same time, Troy still has a lot to learn. He can't rely on Brent to get him lined up, so he's got a lot of learning to do on his own. It'll take some time. He's got to be patient. But the more he can learn, the more we can do. That's just how it goes. You try to do as much as you can, but at the same time you don't want to make it to the point where the guy can't go out and execute if they're thinking too much. That's what he's going through right now. He's making tremendous strides but he still has a ways to go. We still haven't got it all in. There's still a lot more to be put in.

R: Are you excited about him?

DP: You have to. I feel excited about our whole group. The thing that will help us is great competition. We've got some guys who are hungry, who don't want to relinquish their jobs, and we've got some young talent that's pushing the older guys. It's going to make us better.

R: What was your situation in 1992?

DP: Carnell was the strong safety but he held out the first five weeks of training camp. He showed up for the last preseason game. And that year we had a whole new system, so when I came in it was new to everybody, including the veterans so I didn't have the luxury of having guys that knew the system. If I made a call and I was wrong, nobody really knew it because it was new to everybody. That was the one thing (Bill) Cowher said to me from Day One, ‘Hey Darren, when you make the call make it loud and if it's the wrong one at least we play the same defense.' Woodson and those guys, it was new to them. They were all smart players. When you have a team like that, that's got the football savvy and football smarts, it makes your job a lot easier.

R: So Troy can start right away?

DP: Mike Logan's not going to let it happen. He's got something to say about it. The best man's going to get the job.

R: What stands out about Troy?

DP: His ability to learn. He's just trying to learn everything to the point where we talk to him in the meeting and we're trying to coach him, he's writing down notes as opposed to looking at the video because he's trying to absorb so much. We'll try to point something out on film and he's already writing it down on paper. A lot of times, you need to see it and see how it's done, and then you get the theory part of it because you can't play the game on paper. You've got to see it and experience it. That's what a lot of football at this level is and that's what makes it so tough to push the older guys out because they know so much.

That's the good thing now about having all these guys here now. The more they can see and absorb, the better they'll be in the long run. I told him today, ‘Hey, we're not going to go over everything. But if you have an understanding of what we're trying to do as a defense, then you can go out and play against all the other formations and routes teams will throw at you.' They'll do things to make you adjust and if you don't understand it like you need to, you're not going to be able to play certain routes because things change. It's just the nature of our business.

Jim Wexell

Steel City Insider Top Stories