Preview: Last chances for two starters

<b>LATROBE -</b> The Steelers' second preseason game represents a first chance for right guard Keydrick Vincent and a rebuilt secondary, and perhaps a last chance for Alonzo Jackson and Jerome Bettis.

Jackson will start at left outside linebacker while Clark Haggans sits on the sidelines with his injured hand for a final week.

Last year's second-round pick, Jackson played poorly last Saturday against the Detroit Lions. He was manhandled by Lions tackle Stockar McDougle and was victimized a couple of times in pass coverage. Jackson also jumped out of his lane on kickoff coverage and the Lions exploited the hole for a 34-yard return, their longest of the game.

At practice this past week, Jackson committed the cardinal sin of abruptly quitting a drill and running to another across the field. While being pushed around by rookie right tackle Max Starks, Jackson stopped, waved him off and went on to the 7-on-7 passing drill.

With Haggans returning to full-contact practice next week, tonight's game at Heinz Field (7:30) represents Jackson's final chance to hold a place in the starting lineup. He may even be in danger of being cut.

Coach Bill Cowher was asked at his Thursday press conference if Jackson might receive a longer look than, say, undrafted free agent Dedrick Roper, who has clearly outplayed Jackson throughout camp.

"I don't look at things based on where they were drafted," Cowher said. "I came into this league as a free agent as well. It's what you do when you're here. Dedrick has had a lot of reps, as has Alonzo.

"Obviously, when you pick somebody in the second round as opposed to somebody who's a free agent, you're looking at what they potentially could be. At some point, potential has got to become real. You've got to gauge that in terms of where they are and where you foresee them being in the long-term element of things."

And what does Cowher see in Jackson?

"He's getting better all the time. Last year was a move to linebacker. He's always been on the right side. Now, you take him and you move him to the left side, it's like changing everything. It does take a couple of weeks. Everything you're doing is backward. He's getting more comfortable by the day as he gets out there. Again, this will be a big opportunity for him to play a lot of football Saturday night."

It will also be a big opportunity for Bettis, who's in danger of losing the tailback job to free-agent acquisition Duce Staley.

Last week, Staley started and rushed for 45 yards on 11 carries. Bettis relieved him in the second quarter and gained only 5 yards on 5 carries.

"He's handled it as he understood his situation to be when he came back, so I don't think that's been an issue at all," Cowher said of Bettis. "Physically, he came in in great shape and I think he looks fine. I think it's a good situation back there."

Cornerbacks Chad Scott and Deshea Townsend and free safety Chris Hope are expected to join Troy Polamalu, the only uninjured starter last Saturday, in the re-constituted defensive backfield.

The cornerbacks are veterans, but Hope, who will make the calls, is replacing Brent Alexander.

Polamalu, meanwhile, has impressed Cowher as a first-year starter in place of Mike Logan at strong safety.

"He has had a very, very good camp. I mean this kid covers a lot of ground," Cowher said. "He may jump some things at times but he's got great instincts, great feel for the game, takes very good angles and is very fast. The guy really has had an outstanding camp. He's got a chance to be a very special player at his position."

Vincent has started 11 games in his career, but Cowher might consider other options before the start of the season if he feels Vincent cannot ably replace Kendall Simmons, who's out for the season, at right guard.

Cowher could move center Jeff Hartings to right guard, where he played four years ago with the Lions, and then insert Chukky Okobi at center.

"We do feel good about Keydrick but certainly that's a position Jeff's played before," Cowher said. "We'll see what our options are."

At quarterback, Cowher will again use, in order, Tommy Maddox Ben Roethlisberger and Brian St. Pierre. Fourth-team quarterback Kurt Kittner might play if Cowher is confident he has sufficiently learned the offense in the one week he's been with the Steelers.

The quarterbacks on the Texans' roster are David Carr, Tony Banks and Dave Ragone. Former Steelers tight end Mark Bruener is expected to start for the Texans.

In addition to Simmons and Haggans, players expected to miss the game for the Steelers are inside linebacker Kendrell Bell (shoulder/bicep), back-up nose tackle Kendrick Clancy (calf) and back-up cornerback Terry Fair (hamstring).

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