Notebook: Offensive line receives another jolt

<b>LATROBE --</b> An offensive line that's been decimated by injuries this training camp, after being reconfigured by a free-agent loss, received more bad news Thursday when the Steelers learned Todd Fordham had injured his elbow.

A free-agent acquisition last spring, Fordham has been playing with the second team at right guard to help make up for the loss of starter Kendall Simmons. Fordham has also been considered a contender for the starting right tackle position, but instead becomes the third key lineman to miss time this camp.

Simmons was diagnosed with diabetes two days before camp opened and has yet to practice. He lost 30 pounds in the weeks preceding the start of camp but Coach Bill Cowher said Thursday he expects Simmons to return next week.

"We have to be very careful we don't just throw him back in there and say ‘go do the whole thing,'" Cowher said. "The one thing about Kendall is the way he approached the off-season. He was in very good shape when this was diagnosed."

Starting in his place has been third-year veteran Keydrick Vincent, who, according to Cowher, "is having a real good camp."

Center Jeff Hartings has missed the past week with a knee injury that knocked him out of four games last season. Cowher listed Hartings as probable for Saturday's preseason opener in Detroit.

The players who've been ruled out of Saturday's game are running back Amos Zereoue (ankle), Simmons, cornerback Hank Poteat (shoulder), quarterback Tim Levcik (knee) and Fordham, who has a loose chip in his elbow. He underwent an MRI on Thursday but Cowher said he's not too concerned.

"We will take it week-to-week," Cowher said. "I don't anticipate it being anything serious."

Cowher also said he expects Zereoue, Simmons and Poteat to practice next week.

As for the offensive line, Cowher believes the move of former right tackle Marvel Smith to left tackle is working, but that the right side of the line needs more work. Oliver Ross has struggled since being moved to the position to help the team cope with the loss of left tackle Wayne Gandy to free agency. Fordham has been considered an alternative if Ross doesn't improve.

"Certainly, the right tackle and the right guard haven't worked together yet," Cowher said. "It will take some time but I am encouraged by where Kendall is right now with his condition, and I think we will be able to get him back on the practice field soon."

Last year, the offensive line had problems coming together throughout preseason because of a change at right guard. Rich Tylski's replacement, Ross, played poorly in the preseason and lost the job to Simmons, the No. 1 pick. With Simmons in the lineup, the unit continued to struggle through the early portion of the regular season.

Cowher was asked if he has similar concerns about a line that's gone through even more changes this season.

"It does take awhile," he said. "But I feel good about the group we're working with because they know the system and they know each other. It's obviously just getting them back out playing."

DETROIT BREAKDOWN
Cowher said the starters will play only the first quarter at Detroit. Quarterback Tommy Maddox will be replaced by Charlie Batch in the second quarter, and Batch will give way to rookie Brian St. Pierre sometime in the third quarter. St. Pierre, a fifth-round pick out of Boston College, will finish the game at quarterback.

"He has a good presence about him," Cowher said of St. Pierre. "He does not seem overwhelmed by everything. He makes good decisions, his anticipation is good and he has good mobility. I think his arm is plenty strong enough."

The quarterbacks for the Detroit Lions are Joey Harrington, North Allegheny's Mike McMahon, Ty Detmer and rookie Curt Anes.

STATE OF SECONDARY ADDRESS
Cowher was asked for an update on the defensive secondary, and said he's "very comfortable with our secondary as a whole." Cowher had praise for second-year safety Chris Hope, who recently lost his spot on the dime defense to top pick Troy Polamalu.

"You got to see a little bit last night," Cowher said of Hope's physical play Wednesday night at Offutt Field. "Maybe he was offended when Troy was put in there ahead of him. I like the way he has responded. He hasn't said much. He is just going out there and playing."

TO THE GYM

The only practice scheduled for Thursday was moved to the gym due to heavy rains at St. Vincent College. The team will leave for Detroit on Friday and will hold its next practice Monday afternoon.

Jim Wexell
SteelCitySports.com

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