Filling the void

<b>PITTSBURGH -</b> This season was going to be a big one for Steelers linebacker Kendrell Bell to begin with. <br><br> But it got a lot bigger thanks to a lone gunman in Denver.

With Joey Porter out for at least the first few weeks of the season, the Steelers need Kendrell Bell - the 2001 version, not the 2002 - running around on the field and terrorizing opponents.

The Steelers have three top-drawer players on defense. Porter is one, while Bell and nose tackle Casey Hampton are the others. But with Porter out, Bell is the only difference maker out there.

Hampton is an excellent player, probably the best nose tackle in the league.

But being the best nose tackle in the league is like being the prettiest fat girl in the third grade. Hampton will make a big play now and again - his near touchdown last season against Cincinnati and his knockout blow to Eddie George came to mind - but it's just not in his job description to do that game-in and game-out.

In fact, his job description is to help Bell make plays ... lots of them.

If he can continue to keep Bell free, the linebacker must take a page out of Baltimore's Ray Lewis' book and change games.

A strip here, a sack there. Just scaring a receiver enough so that he drops a key third-down pass or the quarterback enough so that he short-arms his throw. Those are the little things Lewis does.

The Steelers will need at least one or two of those big plays per week from Bell if they are to win.

He has the talent to be as good as Lewis. He just needs to prove it on the field.

And there will be no better time for him to begin doing it than Sunday, with Lewis standing on the other sideline watching.

Dale Lolley

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