With backup cornerback Hank Poteat out this week with an AC sprain in his right shoulder, Cowher's getting an eyeful. A member of the second-team defense, Iwuoma had perhaps his best practice with the Steelers yesterday. The highlight was successive pass defenses against the first-team offense.
On the first play the 5-foot-8 Iwuoma leaped to break up a high pass to 6-6 Plaxico Burress. On the next play, Iwuoma cut in front of Chris Doering to bat another pass away. Iwuoma came off the field and was congratulated by Poteat in what may be looked back upon as a passing of the torch.
"Everybody's friends off the field, but on the field you have to make the most of your opportunities," said Iwuoma. "With Hank going down, that gives me an opportunity to run with the second group and if I'm able to run with the second group and make those plays I'm sure the coaches will take notice."
Iwuoma is entering his third season in the NFL after signing with the Detroit Lions as an undrafted free agent out of the University of California. He started the final game of his rookie season at cornerback but was cut the following camp.
Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert and special teams coach Kevin Spencer heard good things about Iwuoma from their sources with the Lions, and Iwuoma played well against the Steelers in a preseason game last year, so they signed him last Sept. 11.
Iwuoma made 16 special-teams tackles last season to finish two off the club lead. Now he's trying to impress the coaches with his play at cornerback.
"It's going pretty good," he said. "I came in kind of late last season so I really didn't quite get into the playbook like I wanted to. But this camp has offered me a good amount of time to get into the playbook and really understand what's going on. Coach has been talking to me a lot, getting in depth, so it's coming together now, starting to mesh. I'm understanding my responsibilities and that's allowing me to get to the ball and make plays."
PASS ON ALTERNATE UNIFORMS
They are meant to line the pockets of NFL merchandisers, but once again the Steelers have said no to the league in regard to wearing alternate or "throwback" uniforms at some point this season.
"We talked to the league about it but we were interested in doing it for a different reason," said Steelers chairman Dan Rooney. "We were going to go with gold jerseys and use them when we played in real hot weather and the league said we couldn't do it."
Punter Josh Miller had part of his meniscus cartilage removed from his plant leg three weeks ago, but he's ready to return to action.
"It feels great," he said. "I'm popping the ball real good. We were getting some times yesterday and they're better than they've been in a long time. They did a good job with it and it feels good."
Miller had the worst net average of his career last year -- 33.1 yards per punt -- before missing the last four games, including the playoffs, with a shoulder injury. After recovering, Miller worked hard to return to form before learning about his knee problem.
"They think I hurt it years ago," he said. "Until it gets pinched between that bone, you don't know you have it. And the shoulder's great."
Miller said all the hard work before the injury has proven beneficial.
"It made it a lot easier to recover," he said. "Mentally it helps out a ton because I was in such a good groove before it happened."
STONE COLD ZO
Rookie pass rusher Alonzo Jackson made a strong move on left tackle Marvel Smith but was stopped cold. Jackson yelled "that's the first time in my life" to no one in particular. Yesterday, he explained.
"The offensive linemen here are so much better than the ones I used to face. I mean, that move right there was a good move for me and it didn't work that time. I've got to adjust to the size and speed of these linemen. I had his weight shifted. Normally, when you have a guy's weight shifted that bad, I'm going to come clean. My quickness will allow me to come clean. But he shifted in there. I probably didn't get low enough. You've got to be perfect when you're going against these guys."
Quarterback Tim Levcik injured the medial collateral ligament of his right knee in the morning practice. Cowher wasn't sure of the severity and expects to have an update today. Also, first-round pick Troy Polamalu strained his calf in the evening practice but remained on the field and made a key stop on third down of the first-team goal-line series. On fourth and inches, James Farrior hit Amos Zereoue and forced a fumble as Zereoue appeared to be crossing the goal line.
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