Workload increased for Alonzo Jackson

<b>PITTSBURGH - </b> The Kevin Colbert era with the Pittsburgh Steelers has yielded some quality draft picks, but the second-rounders in particular have played well. To wit:

  • Marvel Smith, the second-rounder in Colbert's first draft class, was the first rookie offensive lineman to start an opener for either Bill Cowher or Chuck Noll. The tackle recently broke a streak of 45 consecutive starts, including playoff games, with an injured shoulder.
  • Kendrell Bell, class of 2001, became the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and perhaps the Steelers' top defensive playmaker.
  • Antwaan Randle El, last year's second-round pick, led the team in kickoff and punt return yardage, was third in receptions, rushed for over 100 yards and completed seven of eight passes as a rookie.

This year's second-round pick, however, has little chance of having his rookie numbers listed alongside the aforementioned, but outside linebacker Alonzo Jackson is making great strides.

"He's really making progress," said Steelers defensive coordinator Tim Lewis. "You know, to take a guy from that defensive end position, and stand him up and have him cover, rush, change calls - he changes from a rusher to a dropper all in a matter of seconds - is a very difficult task. He's done a fantastic job of picking it up, probably as quick or at a better pace than anybody we've had do it."

Wait a minute. A better pace than any of the others? Joey Porter? Jason Gildon?

"Joey Porter is a Pro Bowl player now but when we first got him he didn't play very much either," Lewis said. "I wasn't here with Jason Gildon so I didn't see how that transition went, but I understand he spent quite a bit of time learning behind Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene.

"It is high praise," Lewis added. "But I'm excited about the kid. He's a talented athlete."

Jackson, a 6-foot-4, 255-pounder with a condor-like wingspan, has played in only two games, and both of those assignments were on special teams. So he has a hard time believing his coach's assessment. Jackson's eyes widened when informed of what Lewis had said.

"Oh, he did?" Jackson said. "I don't believe that. Look, it was a slow, grinding process for me, and I still have a long way to go. I'm just trying to look at Joey, Jason and Clark (Haggans) and learn as much as I can."

Jackson's practice time with the first team increased significantly throughout the bye week. Of course, that's what happens with high draft picks in need of playing time. Chris Hope, a third-round draft pick last year, has also played this week with some of the first-team packages while Mike Logan rests a minor injury.

"Chris is another good football player who's continuing to learn our defense," Lewis said. "And again, he's got a couple of good ones in front of him.

"From a timing standpoint, he's doing a fantastic job picking it up on special teams. He's really done a good job the last couple of weeks. At the same time he's getting very comfortable and confident in calling all the defenses, setting the defenses as a free safety's supposed to. He's also able to play the strong safety position. He's learned it very well. He's a valuable, valuable asset to our team. We're happy to have him."

Those are certainly words of encouragement for a couple of young, highly drafted backups. Hope has had two years to deal with the lengthy timetable that goes with learning the Steelers' complex defensive system. Jackson is just now coming to terms with the learning curve.

"I'm not frustrated. Coming in I could foresee what was going to happen," Jackson said. "I want to play, and the next opportunity I get I plan on showing coach that I got a little something over here."

NOTES - Logan (groin), Clint Kriewaldt (knee) and Jerome Bettis (virus) missed practice, but none is expected to miss time next week. … The Steelers are off this weekend and will return to practice Monday.

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