Only Cowher stands between Hope and stardom

Maybe you have not heard, but the Pittsburgh Steelers run a soft camp. Bill Cowher has long enjoyed the reputation as a player's coach. Through the years, he has surrounded himself with players that play and act Cowher's way. In return, Cowher coddles his prized veterans, letting them stay in the way of the most promising of youngsters.

Not that Bill Cowher doesn't believe in the value of youth, but he no longer tolerates the voice of any opposition, the kind of lip that Greg Lloyd used to serve up on a regular basis.

Recently waived OLB Jason Gildon recalls a time when Marvin Lewis was on the wrong end of a Lloyd tirade, "I remember some of the times him [Lewis] and Greg exchanged words. But that was just Greg being Greg; he exchanged words with a lot of people."

When Lloyd was king of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cowher did not completely control the team. Cowher began to surround himself with the type of players that would follow his direction without question. Gildon may have been the most shining example of such a player.

Last season, defensive coordinator Tim Lewis came between Gildon and Cowher, and we all know who won that battle. However, Cowher eventually betrayed Gildon as well, Jason storming off after his post-season meeting with Bill.

At issue is Cowher's infamous doghouse. Get out of line and ride the pine.

Such has been the lot of safety Chris Hope.

Hope is a very bright and talented football player. That may be his biggest problem, at least in Pittsburgh.

Hope is a self-promoter and hardly lacking in confidence. Before he was drafted, he bristled at his mid-round projection, "They're not going to find a safety more talented than me. The game film does not lie."

Hope did not appreciate having to wait until the third round to be picked, something that did little to endear himself to coach Cowher, "I'm going to play with so much emotion right now because I'm a little frustrated I didn't go as high. I could play linebacker right now. I'm going at it with a whole new attitude.

"I'm very capable of making the same plays as Roy Williams and Ed Reed, any day. That's definitely going to be my motivation."

Hope certainly had a few reasons to believe he was every bit as good as Williams or Reed. He carried a 3.87 GPA at Florida State, demonstrating that he should be able to digest the Steelers supposedly complex defensive schemes. At the NFL Combine, Hope ran a 4.58 and lifted the 225-pound weights an eye-popping 28 times.

While Hope's talent is undeniable, his maturity may be the biggest issue. His physical skills have allowed him to get on the field with much older players. Hope started a few games on his high school's varsity football team as a freshman, at just 13 years old.

Hope will start his 3rd NFL season at the tender age of 23, the same age as many of this year's rookie class. Until he was drafted, success had come easy to him and he expected others to recognize his talent, including Bill Cowher.

Instead of channeling Hope's energy and enthusiasm, Cowher seemed to try and break the youngster. Publicly, Hope complained about his limited role, which did little to impress Cowher.

Furthermore, one of the Cowher-cohort stood in front of Hope, Brent Alexander. Hope eyed the strong safety position, relishing the opportunity to destroy opposing receivers. Instead, Cowher chased Troy Polamalu in the draft, which Hope called "a slap in the face."

Last year in camp, Hope was clearly the best hitter on the team. That was not enough to smooth things over with Cowher and Hope languished behind Alexander on the depth chart, taking whatever opportunities provided him on special teams.

With Alexander now gone, Hope is once again poised to start at safety. However, the Steelers re-signed another Cowher-favorite, Mike Logan. Logan also failed to wrest the free safety position from Alexander, but don't think Cowher won't reward Logan's silence if Hope starts speaking up again.

Hope can quarterback the defense much more effectively than Logan, but his smarts won't do him any good if he fails to embrace the Cowher Way.

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