Notebook: McFadden set for debut

PITTSBURGH – Number-one pick Heath Miller showed his true colors last Monday when the Steelers' tight end flashed like a wide receiver to make a 16-yard touchdown catch.

Number-two pick Bryant McFadden hasn't shown any colors, true or otherwise, because he's been inactive every Sunday so far. That will change today, when McFadden will be activated because of an injury to nickel back Ricardo Colclough.

"I know for sure I'm starting on special teams," said McFadden. "I don't know where I stand with the defense. I'm just blessed to be putting on some pads and I'll be ready to go."

McFadden was a special-teams captain at Florida State, but sat and watched as the Steelers compiled the NFL's No. 25 ranking on kickoff coverage (24.7 yards per return) and the No. 28 ranking on punt coverage (10.3).

Against the San Diego Chargers, the Steelers allowed Darren Sproles to return five kickoffs for 157 yards (31.4 avg.). The coaches were so frustrated they pulled Clint Kriewaldt for Matt Kranchick, and then pulled Kranchick for Quincy Morgan.

McFadden, who was out of uniform that night, is up next.

"I've been ready," he said. "I just tried to be patient and stay focused."

The word out of the South Side is that McFadden has been "wired" this week in practice and that his focus is at a high level.

That had been a concern for a coaching staff which felt the need to wake up their second-round pick with some bench time. His strong week of practice is an indication the ploy worked, just as it did with another former Florida State defensive back who came to the Steelers with an inflated opinion of himself. But Chris Hope returned from his benching in 2002 to become a key player on special teams down the stretch.

RUNTS OF THE LITTER

The Steelers' top two picks will play today, and so, too, could three of their undrafted rookies. The Steelers did well after the draft by signing Andre Frazier, Nate Washington and Greg Warren.

Frazier replaced James Harrison at outside linebacker for two snaps last Monday and already has a sack of Steve McNair to his credit.

Washington hasn't played yet, but could see time today at wide receiver if Hines Ward can't play. Washington spent plenty of time quizzing position coach Bruce Arians this week. Does that mean he'll play?

"You never know when Sunday's going to come around until about Saturday evening," Washington said.

OK. While Washington may have had trouble understanding that question, is he having trouble understanding the offense?

"It's not necessarily having trouble; it's just the sight adjustments, reading off the blitz," he said. "I'm still a young guy reading off the blitz, which blitzes are coming from where, but as far as regular plays go, I'm good."

Warren hasn't hiccupped yet as the Steelers' long snapper. Last Monday, the Chargers took a timeout to freeze kicker Jeff Reed in the final seconds, but the rookie long-snapper was under pressure, too. Did the timeout bother him?

"I'm glad they did it," Warren said. "I felt better getting down the second time than I did just running out there the first time. If anything it helped me."

MAD MAX

Second-year right tackle Max Starks came out of his first starting assignment in front of a raucous crowd on the road Monday with mixed reviews. He flinched once, amid the noise, and also gave up a couple of sacks. Actually, Starks was credited by coaches with having served up 1.33 sacks, and he disputes the main one.

"The first sack doesn't count. I'm holding true to that one," Starks said. "I told coach that should be a coverage sack. It was over five seconds and they covered everybody and I was set and I had him and the running back [Verron Haynes] picked me in the back, so if that counts as a sack against me, oh well. The running back apologized because he knew they were wrong on it."

What did Starks think of his performance?

"You had to watch the ball, watch your man, watch what the secondary's doing, and it made me feel like I progressed and matured as a football player after playing in that environment," he said. "And having it go all the way to the last seconds with the field goal, knowing we had to get those yards in the last four minutes, made it that much more of an experience. We were just pounding away. We did what we needed to and got the win, so it was great."

HOT ROD

Rod Rutherford grew up in the Northview Heights neighborhood of Pittsburgh, prepped at Perry High, was a building-block recruit at Pitt and, after spending his rookie season on the Carolina Panthers' practice squad last year, has joined the practice squad of his hometown Steelers.

"It's something you think about and dream about growing up, and when you finally get a chance to do it, it's a little odd," he said. "I guess it's like a dream come true, in a way, so it's definitely a joy."

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