Maddox is in charge

For the first time in a long time, the Steelers will open training camp without fans having Kordell Stewart to kick around any more. That's because when the players begin arriving at Latrobe's St. Vincent College the Steelers will clearly be Tommy Maddox's team, with no sign of a quarterback controversy in sight.

Maddox wrested the quarterback position away from Stewart three games into the 2002 season and never gave it back. Stewart, who had been in quarterback battles with the team nearly every season since 1996, signed with the Chicago Bears after the Steelers released him following the season.

"(Tommy) earned the position as starter a year ago," said Steelers head coach Bill Cowher. "He earned the position because we were not getting consistent play."

"I feel really good about Tommy, what he has been able to do for us."

What Maddox did last season was lead the Steelers to a 10-5-1 record and into the second round of the playoffs, where they lost at Tennessee in overtime.

Playing in 12 games, 11 of them starts, Maddox completed a team-record 62.1 percent of his passes for 2,836 yards and 20 touchdown passes, leading the team to a 7-3-1 record in games he started. He led them to a come-from-behind victory against Cleveland in the first round of the playoffs and brought the Steelers back from a 14-point deficit against Tennessee in the second round.

There is little doubt he has taken over the mantle of leadership on the team.

"You can talk about him being able to come back from injury," said Cowher, referring to the head and neck injury Maddox suffered in a regular season loss against the Titans.

"But he brought us back from that deficit against Cleveland. He brought us back after we got down early against Tennessee. It's nice to know you have that kind of ability, that you have somebody who can engineer that kind of comeback, who now has a history of doing it. The players around him have confidence that he can do it."

Charlie Batch was re-signed as a free agent to be Maddox's backup this season and will earn a slightly higher base salary this season. But Cowher left little doubt that this Steelers' camp won't see a quarterback controversy.

"I'll take the guy who played last year," Cowher said. "I'm not looking for him to do anything different than he did last year and for him to just lead this football team. And however we unfold, whatever our identity ends up being, he will conform and be a part of that."

Dale Lolley

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