Revamped secondary 'can change in a heartbeat'

PITTSBURGH - Dewayne Washington's long gone. So are Brent Alexander and Lee Flowers. The other starter from the 2002 defensive secondary, Chad Scott, was released this year.

But Darren Perry, who was hired to coach the defensive backs after the Steelers' pass defense finished 20th in 2002, swears the revamping wasn't his plan.

"We have input," Perry said of the assistants, "but we don't have the final say in terms of who stays and who goes.

"Yeah, there has been a lot of turnover, but we think we have a good nucleus here right now. We're young. If you look at us on paper we're a young secondary."

It's a young, unproven and talented secondary.

"A lot of hungry guys eager to go out and make a name for themselves," was how Hines Ward described the group.

Certainly, strong safety Troy Polamalu, the first replacement for the class of 2002, has proven himself. He made the Pro Bowl last year, but isn't satisfied. He worked out feverishly in Southern California before reporting for spring drills.

Polamalu's sidekick isn't satisfied either. Free safety Chris Hope is coming off his first year as a starter but his contract was not extended. This is Hope's money year.

Their back-ups are Mike Logan and Russell Stuvaints. Logan will turn 31 on Sept. 15 and is in great shape. Stuvaints enters his third year as a valuable back-up.

On the corners, it's a free for all, particularly with Deshea Townsend sitting out most drills as a precaution for surgery on his sports hernia. Townsend injured his groin last March, played with the injury all season, and then underwent surgery. He said he could play if necessary, but only takes reps at free safety on occasion.

In his place is Ike Taylor. On the other side is ol' man Willie Williams, last year's street pick-up who stole the starting job from Scott.

Behind those two are the blue-chippers: Ricardo Colclough on the right and rookie Bryant McFadden on the left. And playing third team is veteran Chidi Iwuoma, a special-teams ace. So there's plenty of talent. How will the Steelers sort it out?

"We've got a lot of time," said Perry. "The guys are going to get ample opportunity to state their case. And if you look around, these guys are not silly. They know what's going on. They know what's at stake. The competition is going to make everybody better. It's going to keep everybody on their toes. We love it as a coaching staff."

Ward and Antwaan Randle El, the starting wide receivers, gave their insights on the group. "Ike's having a good camp," Ward said. "The rookie, he's having a pretty good camp. He's a strong, physical guy. He still hasn't seen all the routes and stuff like that, but you see him getting better. The whole group is just gaining confidence. You can see it."

"I came in with Chris Hope. He's developed and has been playing extremely well," said Randle El. "Troy went to the Pro Bowl last year.

"When I look at the cornerbacks, I felt Shea (Townsend) could've been a starter when I got here. He had to take his lumps and wait his turn and he's done that, and he played extremely well. I thought he should've been in the Pro Bowl last year. He certainly had the stats and made the plays. Willie Williams, the way he's been playing is expected because you know him, but if you just came up and someone told you his age (34), you wouldn't expect the guy to play the way he is. Ricardo has come a long way and is playing extremely well."

What about Ike? Hines said he likes Ike.

"I like Ike too," Randle El said. "Ike is already there. I'm speaking on younger young guys, like Ricardo and - what's the guy's name? Don't tell me. Twenty. What's his name?" McFadden.

"That's right. We call him 'B Mac.' He's going to be one of those guys. He's physical with you up front but won't let you get behind."

Perry was asked what the depth chart's current configuration means for training camp.

"Where guys are right now means absolutely nothing and they know that," Perry said. "When we get to training camp, the preseason games, that's when we'll be more conscious of who's who and who's where. Right now they know all that can change in a heartbeat."

NOTES - A top official with the Steelers confirmed they do not intend to release any player on or after June 2 for contract reasons. … Aaron Smith confirmed that he has not restructured his contract this year, contrary to one newspaper report. … The Steelers signed fifth-round pick Rian Wallace this week. He and Steelers sixth-rounder Chris Kemoeatu are among the first rookies in the league to sign contracts. …


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