Notebook: Questions abound ...

High profile Steelers look within to answer questions about money, character, history and, of course, Ben Roethlisberger's thumb.

There's a name for people like Ike Taylor of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"What?" Taylor asked.

It's a name given to big and fast cornerbacks who've earned enough of their coach's confidence to be locked up in man coverage with the likes of Chad Johnson, Marvin Harrison and Muhsin Muhammad.

"What?" Taylor asked, his smile growing bigger, his curiosity aroused.

They call those people multi-millionaires.

"Ohhhhh," said Taylor, and he beamed radiantly. Then he remembered something.

"I just take it one week at a time," he said. "That other stuff will come soon enough."

That "other stuff" would be contract negotiations. Taylor will be a restricted free agent after the season, so it will be difficult for another team to pry him away – as long as the Steelers price him highly enough. And if Taylor comes close to covering Minnesota's Koren Robinson today the way he covered the aforementioned superstars, the Steelers will do just that.

Of course, that's all down the road.

"To get that type of respect, where the coaches feel comfortable enough to line you up on the opponent's best receiver, it means a lot," said Taylor, who's likely to flop sides today with Robinson, the former first-round draft pick (No. 9, 2001) who bottomed out with Seattle, awash in attitude and off-the-field problems.

With the Vikings, Robinson revived his career. He signed the week before the opener and didn't catch his first pass with them until the fifth game. He started the ninth game against the New York Giants and returned a kickoff for a touchdown. In his two other starts, against the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions, Robinson caught eight passes for 177 yards with an 80-yard touchdown catch. Last week, Robinson ran a reverse 13 yards for a touchdown.

"He's on the highlights every Monday," said Taylor. "He's playing with a whole lot of confidence right now."

So is the guy who'll cover him this afternoon.

TOO MANY GOOD GUYS?

Alan Faneca accepted the Chief Award, for cooperation with the media, on the same day four Vikings – Daunte Culpepper, Bryant McKinnie, Fred Smoot and Moe Williams – were charged with lewd conduct and other misdemeanors for their roles in the "love boat" scandal. The timing only crystallized the differences in the two teams' drafting philosophies.

"The guys that this organization brings in here are character guys as well as football players," said Faneca, who easily could've lost the Chief Award vote to any of his 52 teammates. "That's a big part of this football family that the Rooneys have put together."

Faneca was asked if the Steelers might be too nice, if they need a fiery and perhaps unstable type of veteran in the locker room like a Greg Lloyd or a Jack Lambert.

"I think we have those guys," Faneca said. "Joey [Porter] is a big fiery guy on this team. We have those guys. We just don't have 53 of them, which I don't think you necessarily would want."

TRIVIA TIME

After Jerome Bettis left the Dec. 2, 2001 game against Minnesota with a groin injury that cost him the final five games of the regular season, he was the NFL's rushing leader with 1,072 yards.

The injury cost Bettis a chance to become the first Steelers running back to lead the NFL in rushing since … since when?

"I have no clue," said Bettis.

A taunt followed: Doesn't Bettis consider himself a student of NFL history?

"Hold on, hold on, hold on," he said and he stopped what he'd been doing to concentrate on the question.

"I'm going to give it to you," he said as he closed his eyes. "It wasn't [Barry] Foster the year he had 1,600 yards … it would've been … I would think John Henry Johnson, somebody like that."

Close, but wrong. Johnson finished second to Jimmy Taylor in 1962 and third to Jim Brown in 1964.

The correct answer is Bill Dudley, who led the NFL in rushing in 1946 with 604 yards.

Is Bettis surprised a team with a hard-knocking tradition hasn't had a league rushing leader in 59 years?

"No," Bettis said. "That's a hard thing to do. Some franchises never led the league in rushing. It's just a hard thing to do."

QUOTABLE

Hines Ward on whether Ben Roethlisberger's thumb injury is affecting his ability to throw deep:

"Any problems he might have had, I think, had to do with planting his foot. The pass he threw to Antwaan [Randle El] on third-and-14 had some heat on it."


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