Answer Man: I have to believe it's Tommy Maddox. I would be surprised if it's anyone else, but don't bet against the kid. You never know with him.
JW: The players like Maddox. Don't you think they'll rise up for him?
AM: Oh, yeah. He has some special qualities, and, hey, Alan Faneca's his roommate and Alan's become the Joe Don Baker of the team: quiet but carries a big stick. I get the feeling everyone respects Alan. He's a guy who's really grown into that leadership role. He never went looking for it; he just quietly earned everyone's respect.
JW: What about the rest of the line? They played much better last week, didn't they?
AM: When you consider the environment, yes. Max (Starks) got beat a couple times, but the one time he was knocked off his man by the running back. I don't know how he took it so calmly. I thought Kendall (Simmons) played much better. He stuck to his blocks longer and finished better. You know, the worst thing that happened to him was that second year when he initially played with the diabetes. He got beat pretty bad and his confidence sagged. Then he came back and hurt his leg. He just needs some confidence.
JW: I asked him about his knee and he said it's not bothering him.
AM: It is. That's just the position players take with you guys.
JW: Bryant McFadden will be activated finally. He'll help on special teams, won't he?
A: You never know with young guys, but I think so. I think being a second-round pick, and then being inactive these first four games, opened his eyes some. He's been wired this week. I think (Bill) Cowher got his attention the same way he got Chris Hope's when he was a rookie. Remember when Hope played on special teams and Cowher benched him for a couple games? He came back and was a much better player. Sometimes young guys need a dose of humility.
JW: What's your impression of Jacksonville?
AM: Defensively, they've given up some yardage but they fly. They swarm so much. If they were bees, they'd be those killer African bees. The lynchpins are Marcus Stroud and John Henderson in the middle. Those guys toss bodies like farmers baling hay, especially Stroud. Stroud can run. Henderson plays with good leverage and he's a player. I was talking to (Jeff) Hartings and he thinks Stroud is better, but is impressed with how hard Henderson plays every snap.
JW: With those two, why do they give up so much yardage on the ground?
AM: Last week they only used seven in the box against Cincinnati because of the Bengals' passing game. Other than that, I think their linebackers overpursue a lot. They're fast and athletic but they run themselves out of position sometimes. They're not real stout; almost like souped-up safeties. I wouldn't be surprised if Willie Parker does something here. Misdirection and play-action will work. They turn their backs and run to their zones, and the way Kenny (Whisenhunt) attacked the box against San Diego, with all of that misdirection, you might catch these guys going the wrong way and hit something big.
JW: What about Jacksonville's offense?
AM: They have a rookie at left tackle, Khalif Barnes. He looks good on certain plays but is inconsistent. His technique breaks down. (Chris) Naeole is the guy who stands out to me. I can't believe he's 330 the way he runs. To me, the strength of the offense is (Brad) Meester at center and Naeole and (Vince) Manuwai at guard. Casey Hampton will have to have a good day, and (James) Farrior and (Larry) Foote will be tested. I can see the club working for Kimo (von Oelhoffen) – I think he'll have a good day – and I think James Harrison and Maurice Williams will be a good match-up.
JW: I contend that Byron Leftwich throws the ball too hard to be effective in the short game and thus the red zone. Do you agree?
AM: He does throw hard. Your contention may be right.
JW: What about their skill players?
AM: Fred Taylor's been downgraded and I don't mind. I saw him cut back with a jump cut and then he cut back from that with a hop step. He outran the linebacker and safety to the corner. He turned a 5-yard loss into an 8-yard gain. If Taylor can't play, that'll be a big boost. He and Jimmy Smith are the threats and Kyle Brady still blocks like Mark Bruener. Reggie Williams is an athlete. They have some big, strong receivers.
JW: What about Matt Jones?
AM: I like him. I do. He needs time to absorb the offense and move into it, but he's a talent and you never know when talents are going to light it up. He's flashing now with his reach and jumping ability, but he's inconsistent. They'd like to throw that fade over the middle but Leftwich throws rockets.
JW: So what's your feeling about the game?
AM: A lot will depend on how the boys feel, and I'm sure Cowher did a good job getting their legs back. They'll need them because Jacksonville flies. But this is a team (Dick) LeBeau can confound. Defensively, the match-up favors the Steelers. Offensively, the battle will be won or lost in that triangle up the middle. I've got a lot of respect for Stroud. He's tall and gives up leverage but it doesn't matter. Sometimes it just doesn't matter.