Notebook: O-line finally taking shape

<b>LATROBE – </b> On the last day of training camp, Steelers coach Bill Cowher found irony in the fact he's about to get the first real look at his first-team offensive line. <br><br>"This is the last day of camp and it's like the first day with that whole group out there," he said. "This really is the first time we've had Jeff Hartings and Kendall Simmons together at camp. It was nice to see."

Hartings, who's been in and out of practice with a painful knee, will play Thursday night against the Dallas Cowboys. So will Simmons, who missed the first two weeks of camp after learning he has diabetes.

"His strength is not the whole way back," Cowher said. "Hopefully we'll have some long drives so he gets winded and we can throw Keydrick Vincent back in there. If we keep going three-and-out, Kendall's not going to get tired."

As for Hartings, Cowher said his center sat out one day and then "started lobbying that he wanted to play."

Oliver Ross will again start at right tackle, but Todd Fordham will get a few snaps with the first team.

"We may go a couple series and switch them up," Cowher said. "They are still competing. Somebody needs to step up."

He was also asked about the possibility of Mathias Nkwenti playing right tackle.

"Not at this point," Cowher said. "He's still on the left side and we feel very good about him right there."

Four players have been ruled out of Thursday's game. Linebacker Jason Gildon (knee), tight end Jerame Tuman (groin), running back Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala (hamstring) and quarterback Tim Levcik (knee) will sit.

Gildon could play, according to Cowher, if the game were a regular-season game. Cowher said "his fluid has come down" in the knee. Fuamatu-Ma'afala will run Friday to test the hamstring he pulled on the opening kickoff of last week's game against Philadelphia.

Tommy Maddox will start the game and likely play a half with the rest of the starters. Charlie Batch will relieve him, and could possibly get some snaps with the starters. Cowher didn't say whether Brian St. Pierre would play, but did provide support for keeping the rookie as the team's No. 3 quarterback, as opposed to using wide receiver and former college quarterback Antwaan Randle El in that capacity this season.

"I don't see us doing that," Cowher said of keeping only two quarterbacks. "Could we? I think we could. Randle El is a guy you could have a package for. We still may do that. We do have three and Randle El is a fourth."

Randle El, by the way, was named the team's placements holder over Maddox.

"If you have a bad snap, who would you rather have the ball?" Cowher asked.

On the last day of camp, Cowher was asked if he achieved his coaching objectives.

"I don't know," he said. "The weather wasn't cooperative. It was a lot different with the fields and having to put together a makeshift field. That was a little bit of a distraction. We are where we are. It's hard to say when you come out of any camp that you accomplished everything that you wanted to."

Cowboys Coach Bill Parcells stormed away from one of his practices this week, so Cowher was asked if he'd ever been that angry.

"I wouldn't know where to go. Where do you go? I don't want to go back to my room. I would need someone to holler at. Do you want me to holler at the wall? Sometimes you have to do that. We cancelled the rookie show last night. I didn't feel we were focused on this game."

Jim Wexell

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