Cowher opposes change to preseason

<b>PITTSBURGH – </b> Chad Pennington will miss 12 weeks. Michael Vick might miss eight. The NFL has lost two marquee quarterbacks in meaningless games, but that doesn't necessarily make the preseason set-up a bad one according to Steelers Coach Bill Cowher.

"You know what my feelings are?" Cowher asked without being prompted. "We have four games and we're out here evaluating. All these injuries that are taking place? They're going to take place anyway. That's part of football. And the problem if you shorten the preseason is these players that are going in there right now to start the season are going to have no experience."

Cowher made the point that players such as Vick and Pennington, who broke his left wrist in a preseason game Saturday, would be playing anyway, even if the preseason had been cut down. The replacement at least gets another preseason game to become acclimated to the starting position.

"Injuries are part of the game. It has nothing to do with preseason," Cowher said. "You have to have four games to not just get those players ready to play so there won't be more injuries that first week, but you've also got to get the players ready who are going to step in. I'd rather have options right now with injuries if I was a team that lost a player. At least right now you have a lot more options than you do when you cut it down to 53. Then all of the sudden you lose one of those players of high magnitude and what kind of options do you have? You've already cut some players who've been with you the whole camp."

Vick fractured his fibula two weeks ago, allowing his backup, Doug Johnson, to play last week against Tampa Bay. Johnson didn't play particularly well, but of course the game didn't count, giving validity to Cowher's point.

"Don't talk about shortening the preseason and doing things that will affect, I think, the quality of the game, because the quality of the game is not just with the first group," he said. "The quality of the game (isn't affected) when a guy goes down and you're able to put a guy in who's going to blend in with the other players, and the only way they're going to blend in is if they get experience, and the only way they're going to get experience is if they have a chance to play in preseason.

"It disturbs me; it bothers me every time I hear all these people overreacting every time you have someone get hurt."

To further support his argument, Cowher cited the progress made this preseason by Steelers reserves Brian St. Pierre, Ike Taylor, Dante Brown and Verron Haynes.

"You know, we may not see Verron Haynes play out there as a running back if we only play two preseason games. We'd have to get Amos (Zereoue) and Jerome (Bettis) ready to go, but suddenly this guy emerges as a football player.

"Our guys are getting themselves prepared for that Baltimore game. We've tried to prepare accordingly. We're trying to get our starters ready and we're also trying to evaluate people. This fourth game is going to be very important to the makeup of this team, even as it relates to some of the starters.

"You asked me about the right tackle. I can't tell you right now. I'll let you know after this game. But I just feel, and I've always felt this way, the quality of your football team can't just be measured by the top 22. The quality of your football team should be measured by of your 53-man roster because they're going to get exploited and you're going to only be as strong as your weakest link. The only way to develop those players is to allow them to understand the speed of the game, to get them acclimated to game-like situations and to put them in those situations so that when somebody goes down they can come in and blend in. They may not play to that level but they'll blend in and the other people around them will be able to do so. If a guy goes in without having played, I think the quality of the game will suffer. I really believe that."

A former member of the rules competition committee, Cowher was asked if he'd made similar arguments to oppose any previous attempts to shorten the preseason.

"Yeah," he said. "But you never had this much time to talk. After awhile they just tune you out."

Jim Wexell

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