All eyes on the quarterbacks

This is the third in a series about the Steelers positional battles heading into training camp July 24. Today: The quarterbacks

Try as he might, it seems Kordell Stewart will never be forgiven for his 1998 and 1999 seasons.

Stewart had perhaps his finest season as a quarterback in the NFL in 2001, throwing for 3,109 yards, 14 touchdowns and rushing for another 537 yards and five scores. He led the Steelers to a 13-3 regular season record and earning team MVP honors and his first trip to the Pro Bowl.

Yet all some people want to talk about during the offseason are the two interceptions he threw late in the team's 24-17 loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.

"Same old Kordell," they said. "You'll never win the big one with him at quarterback," say others.

Yet in the past two seasons, Stewart has led the Steelers to a 20-7 record in regular season games he's started. And twice now in five seasons he's quarterbacked the team to the conference championship game.

Putting the blame for the Steelers' loss in the AFC Championship Game on Stewart's shoulders is ludicrous. The Steelers had 306 total yards in that game, 289 of which came via the legs and arm of Stewart.

Stewart is the team's unquestioned starter heading into the 2002 season, but who will be his primary backup remains to be seen.

The Steelers signed backup Tommy Maddox to a 4-year, $5 million contract extension this spring and then added veteran Charlie Batch for a one-year deal after he was cut by Detroit to battle for the No. 2 job.

Maddox was a surprise in training camp last season, making the team after winning MVP honors in the now-defunct XFL in the spring. Maddox doesn't possess a strong arm and isn't very mobile, but offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey likes the veteran experience and leadership he brings.

Batch, meanwhile, was a four-year starter at Detroit before falling out of favor with the new regime there. He has a strong arm and is mobile, even if he isn't the scrambler Stewart is.

The battle for the No. 2 quarterback position is sure to be the most closely-watched battle of the preseason.

The also has third-year man Tee Martin and rookie Travis Cole on its roster, but neither has much of a shot at earning a spot on this team.

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