Notebook: Linebackers receive help

<b>LATROBE -</b> The four starting linebackers for the Steelers didn't force a turnover or record a sack in the preseason opener. In fact, they combined to make only eight tackles.<br><br> Perhaps Clark Haggans can help.

Haggans had the pins removed from his two broken fingers Tuesday and practiced lightly with the team that afternoon. Haggans was re-signed this year with the intention of replacing Jason Gildon as the Steelers' starting left outside linebacker. He broke two fingers in a weightlifting accident two weeks before the start of training camp.

"He did more than we thought he was going to do," said Steelers Coach Bill Cowher said. "He had the pins out this morning and he was still under a little anesthesia but he was out here running around, so he'll be able to do some things. We'll stay away from contact. He's not going to play this week. We'll just bring him along a little bit more each day and be careful with it."

Haggans is expected to replace second-year linebacker Alonzo Jackson, who had three of the eight tackles Saturday.

In the backs-on-backers blocking drill, a running back stands five yards behind the line of scrimmage with Cowher standing behind him as he points to one of four linebackers to blitz. The drill provides more contact than normal since the linebackers have a head of steam by the time they meet the back.

With Cowher keeping score, an 8-8 tie set the table for the final match-up, this one between rookie linebacker Dedrick Roper and starting fullback Dan Kreider. Roper surprised the veteran and reached the quarterback, giving the defense a 9-8 "win." The defensive players mobbed Roper.

The offensive players, meanwhile, wanted one more chance, so Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis tackled Cowher to proclaim a tie.

"He had to go down," said Bettis. "He was leaning on the defensive side a bit much, so we had to even it up."

Bettis was asked if there's anything more fun than tackling his coach without repercussion. "Well, you have to step it up because he's going to be looking at you, trying to get you back in practice yelling at you," he said. "You have to make sure every play you run you run it all the way out 30, 40 yards so you don't give him an excuse. And he was watching very closely."

"They were whining over there," said Cowher. "It was a good, competitive period. I like the drill. They were complaining, saying we should do more pass routes one-on-one, but that's too much of a finesse drill. This is more of the stuff I like."

The Steelers ended practice with a one-minute drill between the first teams. The offense settled for an imaginary field before the second-team offense, directed by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, was stopped in four plays.

The highlights of the first team's session were a third-and-eight conversion pass from Tommy Maddox to Chris Doering and a fourth-and-five conversion pass to Antwaan Randle El.

Other practice highlights on Tuesday included the blitzing and pass defense of strong safety Troy Polamalu; a fastball from Roethlisberger to Plaxico Burress along the sideline while Roethlisberger was on the run; a sack of Roethlisberger by Brett Keisel; Willie Parker popping through a hole twice and sprinting into the clear the way only he can; rookie Max Starks going 3-for-4 in individual line drills; and fourth-team quarterback Kurt Kittner completing a pass to the resounding cheers of his new teammates.

Marvel Smith (shoulder) and Alan Faneca (shoulder) were held out of contact drills and are expected back today.

Keisel injured his shoulder, the same shoulder that kept him on the sideline last year, but Cowher doesn't believe it's serious.

The only players to miss the entire practice were Kendrell Bell, Kendrick Clancy and Terry Fair.

Steel City Insider Top Stories