Wednesday Apple Pie

Bill Cowher's going hunting, and it's going to be a Turkey Shoot. Coach Cowher's message to his players during yesterday's pre-camp press conference was quite clear:<br><br> Show me your worth.

Cowher unloaded the first shots this weekend challenging his players with a subtle jab to two high profile veterans, "I don't care what you've done."

That jab is a definite smart at Jerome Bettis and Mark Bruener, two veterans who have never had their starting roles in a Steeler uniform questioned. But, perhaps two other high profile veterans should take a good hard look at Cowher's words.

Those two players would be perennial Pro Bowl linebacker Jason Gildon and perennially injured running back Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala.

Let's look at the case against Jason Gildon. To be sure, Gildon's skills are quickly declining. So much so that his back-loaded contract will become too rich for the Steelers' blood beyond this season. While Gildon, at 30, hasn't missed a start in six years and has amassed 59 sacks over that period, his awful start last season was a warning sign that blinked like neon in Vegas. He didn't get his first sack until the 4th game of the season and achieved only 3 sacks in his first 12 games.

Now, some say that sacks are an overrated stat and in most cases they are a glamour stat, but this case is different. Gildon's sole job on this team since replacing sack-master Kevin Greene has been getting to the quarterback. He failed miserably last year. 4 of his 9 sacks came against Carolina and Houston, two teams that conceded a combined 120 sacks.

To be clear to the fans, Gildon is not in danger of losing his starting position…this year. A poor showing in camp will in most cases precede a poor showing in the season. And for a player who in one season has gone from the 2nd best linebacker to the 4th best linebacker on this team, a strong camp will do wonders for a quick start. But keep this in your cranium; a very quiet Gildon, who hasn't played an above average game since his incredible performance against the New England Patriots in the 2001 AFC Championship game, is a bad sign for players like Joey Porter and Kendrell Bell who look to get double-teamed relentlessly.

On the other side of the coin is Fu. As indestructible as a wineglass, Fu hasn't been healthy in 2 years. While he lacks Jerome Bettis' quick feet, Fu, 26, is a powerful runner. However, he too often runs without any remorse for injury. And in most cases he succumbs to the worst. He also isn't playing for a starting position, rather his roster life. The young pup Verron Haynes out of Georgia is breathing down Fu's neck and the slightest hint of hesitation or injury may push Fu off the roster.

And yet, the one person who may heed the words of Cowher the most is the strong-jawed coach himself. "What you have done has no bearing at all on what you have in front of you or what you have to do," he explained.

Yearly considered one of the top 5 coaches in the game, Cowher can be considered the Phil Mickelson of the NFL. He's the best coach yet who hasn't won a Super Bowl. And his chances and subsequent failures have been well documented.

"The great ones, when they've been challenged, that's how they've become great," Cowher said. And if it's his own greatness and legacy he questions, Cowher, owner of a 7-8 record in the post-season, would be smart to follow his own advice.

John Biles

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