Let me give you the injury update for the game this week. There are two players who are out, Jerome (Bettis) with his calf and Lee Mays with his hamstring. Lee could be a couple of weeks. Jerome is not playing this week and will be week to week from here on out. Two players are questionable, Duce (Staley) with his knee and Joey (Porter) with his knee. We have two players who are probable, Chidi (Iwuoma) with a shoulder, and Bryant McFadden has a knee. That's our situation. We're getting ready to play Tennessee and I know a lot of people look at Tennessee a talk about rebuilding, but you have to be very careful because there's a core of players on the Tennessee Titans that we're not only familiar with, but have success and be successful. Obviously you look at a guy like Steve McNair. He's healthy. He's a lot lighter than he's been in year's past. He's going to present a big challenge for us. Receiver-wise, I know they lost (Derrick) Mason, but they still have Drew Bennett, who's emerged as a No. 1 receiver. They still have Tyrone Calico. They've got a couple of young players in the draft, () Jones and (Courtney) Roby. They've got some skill people. (Erron) Kinney and (Ben) Troupe and Bo Scaife is a young kid who has suddenly shown up. And then the acquisition of (Travis) Henry to go along with Chris Brown, who kind of emerged last year and rushed for over 1,000 yards. They've got some talent. They've got a new (offensive) coordinator in Norman Chow, who's had a tremendous amount of success at the college level. Led USC to their national championship last year. A little of the unknown factor will exist as it does every year. But I think it's a little more so this year because there's no track record with Norman and his philosophy. You look at the other side of the ball. certainly you look at a defense with Jeff (Fisher) there that is going to be strong up the middle. You look at (Albert) Haynesworth a Pro Bowl defensive lineman, and Keith Bullock, who I think played at a Pro Bowl level last year who was overlooked because of their record. And then Tank Williams is the safety. They're very strong up the middle and it's always going to be a grind trying to run the football against them. I expect this to be a big challenge for us. The first game of the season is always exciting whether you're at home or on the road. I think this game will be no different.
Q: How did Joey and Duce look yesterday?
Joey is certainly further along than Duce is. He took part in a full practice and we'll evaluate him further as the week goes. He is definitely higher than Duce is at this point with them both being listed as questionable. Joey has a much better chance of playing than Duce. We'll assess Duce as the week goes on.
Q: Have you seen anything in the preseason. Does coach Fisher still use the same approaches offensively and defensively?
I think certainly defensively not much has changed, Jeff has a defensive background. They didn't have a whole lot of change from a defensive standpoint. Offensively, with Norman Chow in there, they still do some of the things they've done in the past, but I'm sure they're holding back some things as well. That's the unknown you've got to expect going into the first game. But I think you see a lot of the same things. I think they'll try to run the ball and play action and try to utilize some of McNair's mobility. We know what to expect a little bit more defensively. They've always had a pretty good defense.
Q: You only went with seven linebackers. Will you look to add at that position?
That's the way we are now, not that that couldn't change. We tried to keep the best 53 football players and that's the way it shook out.
Q: Coach, because it's preseason and they aren't going to show a lot offensively. Would you bother to take a look back at the Orange Bowl from USC?
No. I'm not going to start chasing those things. The first game with everybody, there's always going to be something new, whether you have a track record or not. They're certainly going to do some of the things they did in the preseason. They're not going to abandon it all. We've still got to play our defense. We've got to do what we do best and not start searching for something that may or may not be there. We'll talk about how we should adjust to certain things and they showed a variety of different formations and personell in the preseason. We have enough to prepare for just going through that.
Q: Jerome after practice yesterday said that it was a morale boost, a lift for the team that Hines (Ward) signed, do you like that?
Yeah, we've got a close locker room. They maintained that closeness. Certainly you see what took place for Hines, you're happy for the kid. Certainly it's great for the organization. He's earned everything that he has received. That and more. He means a lot to the football team. He represents the future. You'd like to keep everyone together. The system doesn't always allow that. But it's nice to see in this situation that it was rectified. And I think everyone came out on top.
Q: How important are openers to the whole scheme of the season?
They're important, but it's not everything. You can't pour everything into an opener. As you can see in our business, 16 games, every game is important. It can set the tone, but it doesn't define a season. You've got to be careful you don't throw everything into it. It's always an exciting time. You have an opportunity to get off to a good start, but at the same time, iof you get off to a tough start, you have to adjust on the run. It's an important game, but a lot more is probably made out of it when you look at the greater scheme of things than really should be because it's the opener and so much is put into it.
Q: Are most teams fresh because they haven't been worn down, but maybe haven't gotten into a rhythm?
I think it's interesting, your point. You sit and watch a game late in the season in December. You played that opponent in the second game of the season and you go back and watch the tape, it is played a little bit faster. You say, ‘boy, they were fresh back then.' It happens with everybody. Some of it's weather, but the other part of it is that you're fresh. You're not beat up. Your legs are feeling good. Certainly it is a battle of attrition in in our game. You're going for five months and it does have some effect on the speed of the game. I've always found it interesting when you go back to watch a game in December, in my mind there is a significant change in the game.
Q: How does the focus change when you finally get to put in a game plan and a scheme for a certain opponent?
It's huge. A lot of stuff we have done during training camp was done competitively. It was done against a 3-4. We worked on some some 4-3 stuff, but for some of the young guys, it became mental gymnastics during the course of a practice. But at the same time, we've got to be ready to do that stuff against some of the teams that we play. When you game plan, there are certain elements that you prepare for, certain things that you want to do. Certain plays will complement other plays. You don't always do that in the preseason because there are certain things you may just want to work on. You're always going to have complementary plays that set up other plays when you starting to game plan. It's a pretty dramatic difference from that point. And you pare it down. It's not a wide variety. You kind of have a thinking going in. You've got to be prepared to adjust as you do in any football game, but there's a lot more focus on what you're trying to do.
Q: Do you expect your focus and game plan to help your quarterback?
We'll see. I'm not going to say that was the result of anything. You still have to go out and perform and do it. I think we've got a good challenge ahead of us defensively. And I think this will be a big challenge for us.
Q: Do you stress the difficulties that McNair brings, especially how difficult it is to get him on the ground?
He's a big guy who's very elusive. He's patient. He'll wait until the last minute to ellude people. But at the same time, he's got good vision. He's not always looking to escape to run, he's looking to escape to throw. He's been very effective doing that. And that's the thing that's scary about him. He's got a great feel for the game. You'll see him come in here and try to check down - the check-with-me system – which our crowd noise could play an integral part of making that difficult, hint, hint, so I think he's a veteran quarterback that we have to be aware of. We have to disguise some things very well but he does have that mobility factor that can make a play last longer than some other quarterbacks.
Q: Is it pretty obvious that he's the leader of that team?
There's no question. He certainly is a guy who sees the field very well and they have a lot of confidence in him. When they need for him to make a play, he'll pull it down and escape and get a first down. That's the thing you have to worry about defensively playing against a guy like this, not to get frustrated. He's going to make some plays. You just have to limit the big plays. Make him run with the ball and just get a first down. They're going to get first downs, he has too much talent around him not to. But you still have to stay disciplined in coverage, disciplined in your approach.
Q: Despite the success Ben (Roethlisberger) had last year, are growing pains still part of the equation?
Absolutely. Ben may not have the stats that he did last year, but he may take tremendous strides as a quarterback this year. It's all how you want to look at it and how you want to value or monitor his progress. He's a guy that has a much bigger comfort level with this offense than he's ever had. And he's grown as a quarterback. Does that mean he's going to have tough games? Sure. He will. But at the same time, it isn't about him. He doesn't need to take the game into his own hands. He just needs to be part of the offense, just like he was last year. Just like everybody else was a year ago. We're going to need to play exceptionally well as a football team. We're not a dominant football team by any stretch. We're a football team that has played well together and found ways to be resourceful when we've had to be resourceful and I don't see thins year being any different.
Q: If Duce and Joey don't play, how do you feel about their replacements?
And maybe was it good in preseason that you got a chance to play them. I don't think there's any question. Whether Duce plays or not, Willie (Parker) is going to start. And Verron (Haynes) is going to be a part of it. Ideally, we'd like to get him some repetition. He hasn't played for a long time. Joey has played some in this camp, more than Duce, but whether he comes back and plays, James Harrison is still going to play a lot of football. And I feel very good about James. I think you look at James Harrison and Willie Parker, I think it was good. Willie didn't get a lot of reps, but he's been here, he's a second-year guy. I feel pretty good about him. But certainly when James Harrison has stepped in, he's played at a very high level.
Q: This is some kind of rambling statement so that I can get my face on television because I have to feed my ego. So let me ask something about the quarterback and game planning even though it's already been asked.
Yeah. Again, what we went through in the preseason will help us down the road. It's all part of the growing process. At some point, you have to take the kid gloves off of him as a person and it may involve some tough games. But that's part of the process as well. You can't protect someone all the time and limit what you do with them. We want to do things that he's comfortable with. The more he's gone through some of these things, the more comfortable he'll become and the more efficient he'll become. But that doesn't mean that you won't have a tough series or a tough game or a tough stretch of games. That doesn't concern me as long as he continues to do the things we ask of him, to be a part of this offense, not to feel the pressure to have to carry it. He will at times have to. We will at times go as he goes. But that's all part of that position. He understands that. He'll learn from each game, each situation he goes through. I think it's going to be an ongoing process.
Q: Are you concerned about the inability to run the ball in the preseason or is that just the preseason?
I'm not concerned, no. The preseason is over. I thought we came out of the preseason with a very good opporunity to measure some people, to make some tough decisions that we made. We didn't throw the ball as efficiently as I'd like to see us throw it. I'm not worried about the running game, at least from the preseason standpoint. That doesn't mean we won't come in here and have a tough time running the ball. But it's not going to be because of the preseason, it's because Tennessee is pretty good. They may take that element away from us. I feel good about the fact we came out of the preseason – would I have liked to see us be more in sync in the passing game? Yes. And that's the one thing I come out of the preseason saying I wish we would have done better. But we are where we are. That's really the only true element that I'm concerned or worried about.
Q: With that in mind and Lee Mays' injury, might you use Heath Miller as a fourth wide receiver?
It's a possibility. We use four wides. I feel good about the four wides we would be using with the three receivers and Nate Washington or Sean Morey being one of those fourth receivers. I think that still presents some matchup problems. And then obviously if you put Heath out there, that can give you another formation to create different kinds of matchups. I like them both and you'll see them both.
Q: What happened with Fred Gibson?
I think we felt good about Nate Washington. He came out of nowhere and had a very good preseason. He had very natural hands. It was a tough decision that we had to make. We were hopeful to get Fred back for the practice squad, but he decided to go down to Miami and I wish him nothing but the best.
Q: As an old special teams guy, is it difficult for you to pull the trigger and go with a rookie long snapper?
No. That's kind of where the system is. Mike (Schneck) understands that. He's got a feel for that. It's not like there haven't been times when we have brought in other long snappers. The guy we brought in is good. He's the best guy we've brought in to challenge Mike. But at the same time, Mike will land somewhere. He's a quality longsnapper. He's a quality guy. I wish him nothing but the best. He understood the situation. I wasn't going to go with just keeping a position player. I've learned that lesson before. This guy is a long snapper, that's all he does. And he's good at it.
Q: Another freaking Alonzo Jackson queston?
It just didn't work out. It doesn't serve any purpose to dwell on it. It just didn't work out. I kept the best 53 players and we kept the seven linebackers that we have and that's how we're going. I'd rather not dwell on it.
Q: Wasn't Russell Stuvaints part of your quarter defense and who will step in there?
He was. That was probably one of the tougher cuts we made. We waited another day on that one. Mike Logan with the camp that he's had. He wasn't there a year ago and now he's there. I felt like Ty Carter was more of a free safety-type than Russell was and that was kind of the makeup of that situation. We kept Chidi around because we feel he's pretty special at what he does. I'd have been hard-pressed to keep 11 DBs, so it was a tough cut. Russell made a lot of contributions to our team last year, but we kept who gave us the best makeup in that secondary.
Q: Did Mike play his way onto the team with that game in Carolina or was it the whole camp?
It was the whole camp. Mike's a very good football player. He's had some injuries in the past. He came in excellent shape. He probably lost five or six pounds. He was moving a lot better. He did that in the offseason program and then in training camp you want to see what he can do. He had an outstanding camp and made a lot of plays for us. He's an integral part of our special teams, an integral part of our third-down packages, we need him. Mike's a good football player.
Q: (Since we're going over the whole roster) What was the thought process in the quarterbacks that you kept? Did you seriously consider going with two?
Yeah, I seriously considered it. But at the same time, an experienced guy like Charlie Batch is just good to have around. He played well. We went through that last year. We lost one and suddenly you're scrambling to find another one. A lot of people talk about Antwaan (Randle El), but Antwaan is a full-time receiver. He's not a third quarterback. I think right now - hey we may need a roster spot, who knows how the season will unfold? But Charlie is a quaility guy and this preseason I thought he performed very well. He hadn't played, but I thought he got better as the camp went on. I feel comfortable now with the quarterback situation that we have.
Q: Are roster cuts sometimes made with next year and beyond in mind?
All of it. Certainly you're looking at next year. You're taking the cap into consideration. There are a lot more things that go into it.
Q: How do you feel about the squad going into the season?
I don't know. I feel good about the guys. We're still trying to create an identity. You don't just walk into a season with one. That in itself will have to be proven.
Q: Return guys still the same?
Yep, 24 and 21 on kickoffs and El on punts.