Coach Cowher Issues Warning to Veterans

Just in case they needed any added incentive, several Steelers' veterans got a stiff warning from head coach Bill Cowher Monday.

"I don't care what you've done," said Cowher, who is preparing to lead the Steelers into training camp at St. Vincent College in Latrobe for the 12th consecutive year.

"What you've done has no bearing at all on what you have in front of you or what you have to do. We do not play the game on paper. The game is being played today."

Cowher's statement has particular meaning this season as the Steelers enter training camp with several veterans fighting for their jobs.

"You've got to keep the edge," Cowher continued. "The great ones, when they've been challenged, that's how they became great. The challenges from the outside are not as great as the challenges they put on themselves. You're not doing anything to them they're not doing to themselves."

Cowher could have specifically been speaking about running back Jerome Bettis and tight end Mark Bruener, both of whom have suffered through injuries in the past two seasons and will find themselves in the odd position of fighting for a job.

In years past, the Steelers have opened training camp with precious few starting jobs open. But this season, coming off a 10-5-1 campaign that ended with a second-round playoff loss at Tennessee, the Steelers have as many as four starting spots - running back, tight end, strong safety and right tackle - open for competition.

Cowher said that Bettis, who is second on the team's all-time rushing list despite rushing for a career-low 666 yards last season, would begin the season in a rotation with Amos Zereoue for the team's starting running back spot.

Zereoue got seven starts last season, including both playoff games, with Bettis nursing a knee injury. He responded by rushing for 762 yards and catching 42 passes for another 341 yards.

"We're going to switch them up, give them a chance to run with the first teams," Cowher said. "We'll give them both a chance to run, see how it unfolds and go from there.

Bruener, meanwhile, will face competition from free agent-signee Jay Riemersma and Jerame Tuman for the team's starting tight end spot for the first time since the Steelers selected him in the first round of the 1995 draft.

"I couldn't tell you right now who'll line up in Baltimore," said Cowher, referring to the team's regular season opener Sept. 9.

Veteran safety Mike Logan, who is coming off a severe knee injury suffered in a playoff victory over Cleveland, will open training camp at the top of the depth chart at strong safety. However, the Steelers traded up in the first round of the draft for the first time in team history to select Troy Polamalu. Polamalu is expected to mount a stiff challenge to Logan.

And at right tackle, veteran holdover Oliver Ross will get the first shot at replacing Marvel Smith, who's moving to left tackle, with free agent pickup Todd Fordham waiting in the wings.

Cowher's not concerned with anybody's feelings getting hurt because their job was opened.

"I think if you have the right veterans, they're fine," he said.

Dale Lolley

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