Hoke, Colclough need to step up

Casey Hampton's season is likely over, while the Steelers will likely get better news within the next 24 hours in regards to the health of cornerback Chad Scott.

Still, Sunday's 24-20 victory over the Dallas Cowboys was an expensive one.

"Everybody's going through (injuries) in the NFL right now," said linebacker Larry Foote, who has started six games in place of injured Kendrell Bell. "It's part of the game."

But with the Steelers off to a 5-1 start, they'd just as soon spend the next two weeks preparing for the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles - their next two opponents after their bye week - instead of trying to figure out how to juggle the roster to cover up for the loss of their best corner and Pro Bowl nose tackle.

At nose tackle, four-year veteran Chris Hoke will see more playing time, rotating with end Kimo von Oelhoffen, who spent the entire 2000 season at that position. Neither is the player Hampton is against the run, though they may offer more as pass rushers. Hampton's injury will also mean more playing time for veteran defensive ends Travis Kirshke and Brett Keisel.

Hoke did not appear in a game during his first three seasons, dressing for just two contests in 2002. But he had an excellent preseason, leading the team in sacks.

"I have to step up," Hoke said. "That's what I have to do. That's what I'm going to do. . You don't replace a guy like Casey, but you have to try."

"Hokey can play. He's not Casey. Casey's an All-Pro," said Foote. "But Hokey can play. Y'all are going to find out in a couple of weeks. Y'all are going to be surprised, but we're not."

The Steelers have more options at cornerback. Pittsburgh added rookie Ricardo Colclough, drafted in the second round, and veteran free agent Willie Williams during the offseason. Williams was a full-time starter for both the Steelers and Seattle from 1995 through 2002 before losing his starting job with the Seahawks last season.

Colclough likely will get the first opportunity to start, with second-year player Ike Taylor also seeing added playing time in passing situations.

"I'm ready," said Colclough. "You don't want to see guys hurt, but we have to be ready to step up and take their place. That's what we're here to do. I've been getting a lot of playing time already in the nickel and dime and that's really helped me."

Colclough joins a secondary that already has two first-year starters in safeties Chris Hope and Troy Polamalu.

One thing that may help the Steelers would be the return of Bell, who had surgery two weeks ago to repair a hernia. Cowher said at that point the 2001 NFL defensive rookie of the year might be ready to return to action following the team's bye week.

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