Cowher press conference, Aug. 23

The punting duel between Chris Gardocki and Mike Barr was one of the topics at Bill Cowher's final camp press conference. The Steelers will break camp Thursday after a morning walk-through in preparation for Friday's game against the Eagles.

BILL COWHER, coach, Pittsburgh Steelers Okay, let me just give you the medical update. First of all, yesterday Deshea Townsend has a slight fracture of his thumb. He got it in practice. He will not play this week and we'll take him week to week from there. He will not require surgery, which is a good thing. We will assess this on a weekly basis. Ulish Booker is out for this game and he will be placed on Injured Reserve. He's got a torn ACL. He did that two days ago in practice. Chukky Okobi (neck) will not play. Again, we'll assess him next week. There's a good chance he'll come back and participate in practice next week. Jerame Tuman (hamstring) and Hines Ward (hamstring) will not play in this game. Jerame, we'll assess where he is next week. Hines, we're going to err on the side of caution. We hoped to get him prepared for this week but he's just not ready to go out there. We're still encouraged by his progress, even though it's going slow. That's the truth. Like I said yesterday, these things are very hard to assess on a long-term basis. You've just got to be patient. And Isaac West (knee) also will not play. Those players are the only ones who are definitely not playing in this game due to injury. This being the third game we'll play these guys a little longer, some of it will be based on snaps, some of it will be assessed on quality of play and we'll go from there.

Does Bryant McFadden start in place of Deshea?

Either him or Ricardo (Colclough). They'll probably split it, so they'll both be over there on the right side.

Nate Washington for Hines?

That's correct.

Is Jerame trying, like Hines has, to get on the field?

Oh, yeah.

But has he been getting on the field and enduring setbacks as Hines has?

If a guy's not out there are you calling it a setback? Your assessment of it and my assessment are two different ones because I don't look at it as a guy who goes out there and practices and he doesn't practice the next day as a setback. It's just more of a gauge of where they are, and that's what we're trying to do. We're not setting them back; we're trying to gauge where they are. They go to a certain point, see how they feel; the next day they may be off and they go out and practice the day after. It's hard to assess that, but we're not doing anything with Jerame from the standpoint of we're trying to strengthen it and we're continuing to do some of the things on the side to make sure we are progressing and not pushing him back before he's ready to handle a full practice and/or a game.

How long will the starters play?

It's hard to say. I base a lot of it more on snaps than quarters and the quality with which we're playing. They will not go into the third quarter but I will not rule out a whole half; somewhere between the first and second quarter.

Are there any players you want to see work with that first team?

We'll certainly look at different combinations. That will certainly be the case. Again, there are a lot of different combinations we'll look at, but again it's pretty much those units looking for some consistency of play and more efficiency on both sides of the ball. That's hopefully what we're getting to at this point.

Do you expect to see Kendall Simmons take snaps with the first team?

You can expect to see Kendall taking some snaps at center, yes.

Will all quarterbacks play?

Probably. I know the first two (will). I'm not sure about the last two, where we'll go with that.

Will Ben Roethlisberger play as long as the other starters?

There's not just Ben; maybe Ben and Willie (Parker) and certain other guys who may not play as long. I think the line will play a little bit longer, particularly with Charlie (Batch) in there. It's more a mixed match. It's hard to tell you who's going to play when because there are different combinations of people we want to see on both sides of the ball. We're getting down to that point where we need to make some assessments of people as we start a season to go in there initially with some players who are going to have certain roles. That's how you start a year. You have to be able to do that, but that doesn't mean that roles won't change whether it be due to performance or injury or any circumstances that may come up.

Will you rotate at free safety, too?

Yeah, we'll continue to look at those different combinations.

Is it Tyrone Carter's turn to start this week?

It is.

Is that working its way out?

Yeah. I'm not ready to name a starter at this point. It's working out. We're gathering information every day in practice and certainly in the game. As soon as we make a definitive decision we'll let you know.

Is Anthony Smith still a possibility there?

He's going to be a good football player. Certainly at this point it would be highly unlikely; again I can't rule anything out; there are a lot of circumstances that could come up. But he's a good football player. We've got him in some different roles. We've kind of thrown a lot at him, a little bit like we did with Troy (Polamalu) that first year. We've got him playing the dime; we've got him playing the safety in the quarter and there are two different positions there -- we've got him working in the sub package and then the regular position. I think a lot of that can be overwhelming at times, but he's a bright kid and he's working at it. He's going to be a good football player. He is a good football player and he'll have a role on this team.

Are Verron Haynes and Duce Staley's roles still up for debate?

I don't know if debate's the right word. We're looking at them. Verron's had a very good camp. I think Duce is working himself back into running shape. Verron has proven to be a very, very good third-down back. I think with Willie being the starter and having those other two guys, I just think you can never have enough good running backs, particularly with the way we like to play the game.

Is it possible you won't have that role Jerome Bettis had?

That's a very distinct possibility. I think with where we are right now, going into the season it's hard for me to say when we get into short yardage that we're going to make any kind of change. I think that's going to have to play itself out. If somebody starts to surface and becomes that guy, as the season goes on I wouldn't rule it out, but I can't say right now there's been one person like there was with Jerome. And I don't think that's a bad thing. That's the way it was last year. This year's a different year.

Have you got done most of what you wanted to get done?

I do like the focus and the way they've responded. You don't hear a lot of reflections back to a year ago, outside of recognizing what it takes to get there. There's been good leadership from that perspective. So from that standpoint and getting through the camp, we haven't had any major injuries. I think that that's been a good thing. And I think we got a lot of good quality work done on these fields. It's hard for me to assess where we are but I do like the demeanor with which they've approached the work. I think we got some things done from that perspective.

Did you ever come out of a training camp disappointed and then go on to have a good season or vice versa?

I honestly think the first five or six years it was like trying to gauge a locker room before a game. I used to think these guys are ready to play and then they'd go out and lay an egg. Then I'd go in there and nobody was saying a word and I'd think, Man, these guys are dead. And then we'd go out and play a great game. I quit gauging that. I think we can assess some things. A couple of years ago we were working on a field that was lined in yellow and we had to have like 3-D glasses on to know where you were. From that perspective, we've gotten quality work done. Like I said, where we are, it's hard to say. Who we're going to be? That's also hard to assess. It's a different football team than it has been in the past, but every year is different. As long as we understand that; like I said, this is where the foundation starts. The identity will be something that works itself out in the first four or five weeks.

How did Deshea break his thumb?

He made an interception yesterday in the red zone and I don't know if he hit his thumb on the player when he broke in front. It was a freakish thing.

Left or right?


Does the identity work itself out in games, or is it once the roster is cut, then they can start looking at who's here and who isn't and their roles?

That's hard to assess because every year becomes a new year. That doesn't mean you have to lose games to find out about yourself. But the more you play, the more certain players play, you start to see the level that they are playing at. Certain players step up. There are still some unknowns even with guys who have been here. Can they sustain the high standards that they have set for themselves? You have veteran players who played at a Pro Bowl level last year, they have to be able to sustain that. Other players progress because now they are a year more experienced. And then you're going to have to have young players step in and make contributions. And those young players, you're still not sure what they are. As the light comes on as the season progresses, that gives you a chance to see how some people respond to that next level. The speed of game becomes faster and things become more intense. Some people can handle that and thrive on that and other people you find it takes a little longer to adjust.

You mentioned last year around this time that the light went on for Ike Taylor. Has a similar thing happened yet for Ricardo Colclough?

He's had as good a camp that he's had since he's been here. I remember telling him after the first week and he'd played well, I told him he'd done this in the past and then gone into little lulls. Could he sustain it? I'll say this, to this point, he has sustained it. I'm not ready to say he's there. We've played two games in the preseason. But I do like the manner with which he's playing. He seems a very focused player, he's been a very consistent player, day-in and day-out on that practice field. He's been able to take it over to the games. Can he sustain that? Time will tell. But I do like where he's at right now.

You mentioned earlier that you were not sure you'd make a change when you got down into short-yardage. Does that mean that Willie (Parker) will stay on the field?

Yeah. At this point, yeah. I don't have any real plans at this point.

In your decision on a punter, are there other things you take into consideration other than their stats side by side?

There's no question there are a lot of things that go into that. Chris Gardocki is still a very solid player in all the things he does. He's an outstanding holder for Jeff Reed. He's a consummate pro. I have a lot of respect for that man. You know he'll be there. Yeah, it doesn't just come down to how a guy punts in the preseason. Those are tough calls to make. I have a lot of respect for him.

Are you in good enough shape with the cap that you can take who you want?


By his own admission, Charles Davis said he's having a hard time adjusting to blocking at the pro level. He played in that Purdue offense where he didn't have to do it. Is he being hard on himself or is he that lacking and how does he improve his blocking? He's a big guy.

The point is well taken. It was not something he was asked to do a lot of in college. But I think a lot of these guys come from programs where that's part of the transition about going to the National Football League. You're being asked to do things you probably didn't do before. He's getting an opportunity and he'll continue to get an opportunity because that's a big part of what we're looking for at that position. He's got a lot of the physical tools you're looking for. Now it's just seeing the application of what he's been taught on a consistent basis.

Which of that group of tight ends has done anything to distinguish himself from the group?

I look at all three of them. They all bring their own niche. They're all different. (Jonathan) Dekker has done some good things. He can run. Charles you look at. And (Isaac) Smolko is a tough kid. You never can count him out. I think all three of those guys have their little identity.

Are you confident Deshea will be ready for the opener?

I'm optimistic.

He broke his hand before?


James Harrison was carted off the field yesterday.

He got his foot stepped on, his toe. He said it really hurt (laughs). He did, he said it really hurt. He went up and X-rayed it and came back with a steel plate on his toe.

So he does feel pain?

He does. I questioned him and he said, ‘Here, let me step on you like I got stepped on.' I said, No, that's OK.

Do you know who stepped on him?

I don't know, but he didn't know either. That was a good thing.

In the past you've at least considered two quarterbacks. Are you at the point now where you'd consider keeping two or three quarterbacks?

Both are a possibility.

Obviously, if you only have two guys, you've got to find a third guy n the team.

True. That's an accurate statement.

We can rule out four?

You can absolutely rule out four. That is not going to happen.

One more thing about that: (Antwaan) Randle El was your No. 3 before. Who on your team could be that third quarterback?

That's a good question. I would say Cedrick (Wilson) at this point. But that's something we'd have to look at.

You haven't looked at that much in practice.

No, we have not.

Will there be other candidates?

You have any ideas?


Hines, let's get his hamstring healthy first and let him play receiver, first and foremost. If we went that way, we'd have to look at that as an option and see what our options are.

Heath Miller played it in high school.

That's what I hear. Santonio (Holmes) looks like he throws a pretty good ball. I don't know if he played quarterback before. But he just needs to worry about playing receiver for now. That's the last thing he needs to worry about.


He played quarterback too in high school. If his thumb's OK and he could take a snap … that's a bad option, though.

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