Goal-Line Drills, Stuff It

<b>LATROBE –</b> Twice now in this training camp the Steelers have lined up for goal-line drills. And twice the first-team defense has stuffed its offensive counterpart.

That's both a positive and a negative, depending on how you look at it.

The drill gives the offense four cracks at scoring from the 5-yard line. The Steelers' first-team offense has not been able to punch the ball into the end zone on eight snaps from the 5 and that's a little disconcerting.

On the other hand, the defense shutting an opposing offense down twice in that situation – including stuffing Verron Haynes on fourth down from the 1-foot line Saturday – is encouraging.

Perhaps the most positive sign to come out of the drill was the Steelers didn't try to throw the ball once. Not once.

Head coach Bill Cowher said after Wednesday's goal-line battle at Latrobe Memorial Stadium new offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt had taken the passes out of the goal-line package for now.

"I told Kenny that I can't wait to see that first pass but we haven't seen it yet in two goal-line charges," said Cowher. "He is making a very heavy statement and I like that."

Whisenhunt's statement? The offense is going to be more physical in 2004.

The Steelers averaged just 3.2 yards per carry last season and were 31st in the NFL running the football.

The defense? It gave up 108 yards rushing per game, finishing in the middle of the pack, while also recording just 35 sacks, the team's lowest total since 1990.

That is not acceptable for a team that has taken pride in the way it has dominated opponents at the line of scrimmage.

Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has a proven track record, however, as an aggressive play caller.

But Whisenhunt, he's the question mark.

He's never been a coordinator before. So as the new kid on the block, he's sending a statement: "We will run the ball."

That was something former offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey completely gave up on at times last season. Who can forget quarterback Tommy Maddox dropping back to pass 38 times in a driving snowstorm in a 6-0 loss to the Jets last season while the team attempted just 24 running plays?

That's not Steelers football.

In fact, that's just losing football.

Cowher has stressed that this team will re-establish itself as a physical presence during.

Most took that to mean the team would re-establish itself as a bully on defense.

But even a team whose strength lies in the receiving corps of Hines Ward, Plaxico Burress and Antwaan Randle El needs to run the ball to win.

John Elway was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Sunday and was deserving of that honor before winning a couple of Super Bowls at the end of his career.

But Elway didn't win those Super Bowls until the Broncos had a great running game, thanks to Terrell Davis.

The Steelers don't have a back of Davis' caliber. But the combination of Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis has a much better chance of running the ball than last year's combination of Amos Zereoue and Bettis did.

It's promising to see the new offensive coordinator realizes the importance of establishing that.

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