Jackson plays waiting game

<b>PITTSBURGH -</b> Alonzo Jackson played in every game during his freshman season at Florida State, including the national championship game. He never got the redshirt year many freshmen get. <br><br> That's what is making this season such a difficult one for the Steelers rookie.

Jackson, Pittsburgh's second-round pick in this year's draft, has spent the past 10 games standing on the sidelines watching his teammates struggle to a 4-8 record.

And the most difficult part? Jackson hasn't even had the opportunity to suit up on Sundays, instead being placed on the inactive list, meaning he has to watch the games in street clothes.

"It is tough being there and knowing that you're not going to get a chance at all, standing over there in a sweat suit and a hoody," said Jackson. "It's tough week-in and week-out, day-in and day-out. That's what I have to do. That's what Coach Cowher sees as best for the team on game day, so that's what I have to deal with."

Steelers head coach Bill Cowher said Jackson is caught up in a numbers game. The Steelers have eight linebackers on the active roster - starters Joey Porter, Jason Gildon, Kendrell Bell and James Farrior; and backups Clint Kriewaldt, Larry Foote and Clark Haggans. Kriewaldt, Foote and Haggans are all excellent special teams players, leaving little room on the 45-man game day roster for Jackson.

"Alonzo is doing fine, he is working very hard," Cowher said. "It's just hard to dress eight guys from the kicking game standpoint. É The fact is that he is getting better in practice. He is working hard in there. His time will come."

That doesn't make it any easier on Jackson.

A defensive end at Florida State, Jackson is being asked by the Steelers to do what Porter, Gildon and Haggans, among others, did before him: make the transition to linebacker.

Jackson had a pair of sacks in the final preseason game and was active for the first two games of the regular season. He even played 10 defensive snaps in the Steelers' opening-day blowout of Baltimore. But he struggled as a special teams player and has been inactive in every game since Week 2.

Now, the only thing he has to look forward to are his weekly visits from strength and condition coach Chet Fuhrman, who lets the players know the day before the game if they will be on the eight-man inactive list.

"Chet comes to me every week, but you can kind of see how the flow of practice goes and you can kind of tell," Jackson said. "I know there are expectations out there for me and I'm ready to live up to them. But Coach sees it best for me to watch and learn and that's what I'm going to do. I don't have any other choice."

But Jackson's not blind. He sees young players such as safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Ike Taylor getting playing time this season and it hurts. Polamalu was the Steelers' first-round pick this year, while Taylor was their fourth-rounder.

And with the Steelers virtually out of playoff contention, Cowher could start clearing his bench to see what other young players deserve more playing time next season.

"I just believe that Coach Cowher has a plan for me," Jackson said. "I'm guessing and hoping and praying that he does. Lord knows I want to get out there and play and help my team the best that I can."

"I'll do anything he wants me to do. I'll cover kicks, block. I'll do anything I have to do, linebacker, defensive rush end. I'm just waiting, hoping and wishing."

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