Steel Quotes: Reporters View

These are the thoughts of a sportswriter who has a new appreciation for NFL preseason games after covering a high-school opener Friday involving teams that went 3-17 last season:

· Just so you can feel some of the pain, here's a graph from that HS game story -- "The game finished exactly three-and-a-half hours after it started. Not only did lightning delay the game, so too did a dislocated shoulder injury by one player, a pair of on-field vomiting breaks by another, a combined 19 penalties and a full deployment of timeouts by both coaches. On South Allegheny's final timeout, its coach was allowed to walk his second team to the line and point out their positions before a simulated snap. His instructions were clearly heard by the 50 or so remaining fans."

· Kind of like watching 22 Josh Burrs have at it for 60 minutes.

· And then Burr made it to the morning tape review, hopefully for the last time. He was called for three holds, allowed several pressures and gave up a sack and forced fumble on his final play in the league. We never did get to see Mathias Nkwenti play right tackle.

· On to the important stuff in the Steelers' 21-14 preseason loss to the Carolina Panthers, Amos Zereoue ran extremely hard and appears ready to give the Steelers their best running threat since Jerome Bettis went down with an injury late in the 2001 season.

· The offensive line played well, too, particularly Todd Fordham, but let's all tone our praise down a little bit. Carolina's defense admitted to being flat after learning of the possible cancer prognoses of well-liked assistant Sam Mills. Also, the Panthers haven't been a blitzing team under John Fox, and they didn't do much of it Friday. The Steelers' biggest problem up front is handling blitzes.

· Speaking of which, third-down back Verron Haynes is superior to Zereoue -- the player in that role last year -- at picking up blitzes and catching the ball. Zereoue, if truth be told, has worse hands than Bettis and has as much difficulty contorting his body for poor throws.

· At least the Steelers finally scored some first-quarter points. Some of the credit should go to Fordham, but guard Kendall Simmons did an even better job, when asked, on end Julius Peppers.

· Peppers actually played the run pretty poorly Friday night. On Zereoue's 19-yard touchdown run, Peppers was pushed out of the way by Jay Riemersma. Fullback Dan Kreider made a key block. So did Simmons on the kick out and wide receiver Plaxico Burress down the field.

· It was the first score in the first quarter by the offense, but the first-team defense didn't force a turnover this preseason. Some other interesting first-half stats by the Steelers' defense finds them stopping third downs at a sub-par rate of 50 percent (14 for 28), but they did shut down the run. Opponents gained only 87 yards on 36 first-half carries for an average of 2.4 yards per carry.

· Tight ends are still hurting the Steelers. Carolina doesn't have Wesley Walls anymore, but assorted replacements caught 5 balls for 51 yards and a touchdown, bringing the total to 17 catches by tight ends against the Steeler this preseason for 159 yards and two touchdowns.

· Troy Polamalu's coverage bust allowed Mike Seidman's 4-yard score Friday. Polamalu hasn't broke out yet, but linebacker Kendrell Bell has. Piles are starting to move backward in that sudden snap. Heads are jerking, too. Sure signs that Bell is in on the play.

· Matt Cushing started the 99-yard drive with a 5-yard catch and ended it with a soft pluck of a high Charlie Batch 3-yard pass for a touchdown. It was a solid bid for that last roster spot, one not made by several other players in Cushing's position. Calvin Collins played an OK game at left guard, and his value may have gone up with the sack Chukky Okobi allowed in one of his few plays at left guard. Other than that, players such as Hank Poteat, David Upchurch, Chris Hoke, Dante Brown and of course the injured Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala showed little.

· If James Harrison hadn't locked up the 52nd spot before the game, he did during the game when he showed more than just special-teams ability. Harrison not only played the run well, he dropped fluidly into coverage a couple of times, and even ran down Eugene Baker to end a 39-yard reception.

· Here's to the end of the preseason, of backup tackles helping up their quarterbacks, of alleged phenoms only carrying the ball in the second half, of poor tackling from backup linebackers and of asking first about injuries. To that final point, the Steelers had a great preseason. Now, let the party begin.

Jim Wexell

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