Pittsburgh Steelers Team Report

Pittsburgh's offensive line, which performed well after a slow start last year, is off to a horrendous start through the first two weeks of training camp. <br><br>In fact, it's a mess, although one Coach Bill Cowher believes will be cleaned up before the season begins.

The left tackle, Marvel Smith, is new to the position after starting at right tackle the past 2 1/2 seasons. Veteran center Jeff Hartings missed the past week with a sore knee. Right guard Kendall Simmons missed the first two weeks because he has diabetes, and the new right tackle is still to be determined.

The makeshift line went out and laid an egg in Detroit in their first preseason game on Saturday. The Lions harassed quarterback Tommy Maddox in the first quarter, sacking him twice, once for a safety, and chasing him out of the pocket.

"Tommy was under a lot of duress, he was throttled," Coach Bill Cowher said. "We didn't really get much from running the football, so I thought they beat us at the line of scrimmage."

Pittsburgh quarterbacks were sacked five times by the Lions. Also, backup center Chukky Okobi, who filled in nicely for Hartings in five starts last season, sprained his left ankle and will miss another week. Todd Fordham, competing with Oliver Ross at right tackle, missed some time last week when loose cartilage was discovered in his elbow.

"I don't concern myself with that at this point," Cowher said. "I don't think there has been a big setback with that group, assuming that I can get that group settled as soon as possible."

There was some good news coming out of Latrobe this week. Hartings returned to start against Detroit, and Simmons was scheduled to begin practicing, although no one expects him to be in tip-top form right away. After losing 30 pounds the week before camp, he was back to 306, five under his target playing weight.

"Certainly, the right tackle and the right guard haven't worked together yet -- whoever the tackle is -- because of Kendall's situation," Cowher said. " I think time will tell."

But how much time? The offensive line takes longer to click than any part of the team. The Steelers had fewer changes in their line entering last season and it played poorly through the first three games. With a healthy backfield, the Steelers rushing totals in those games were 63 yards, 72 yards and 93 yards.

"Yeah, it does take awhile, maybe," Cowher said, "but I feel good about the group we work with because they know the system, they've been in this system, they know each other. It's obviously just getting them back playing."

Ross was terrible against the Lions, and the first-team line did not play well at all. Halfback Jerome Bettis found nowhere to run; he gained 19 yards on eight carries.

"It was difficult, it was tough," Bettis said. "But when you don't have the same five guys there daily in practice, it makes it kind of tough. The guys who are feeling their way out, still finding their matchups and coaches are working with that. In the preseason, the last thing that comes together is the offensive line. It just takes time."

CAMP CALENDAR:
The Steelers' last practice at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa. is Aug. 19. They do not scrimmage against any other team.


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