Bill Cowher press conference, Sept. 12

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher held his weekly press conference Tuesday to talk about the team's upcoming game with Jacksonville.

Opening Statement: Let me give you the injury update as we go into the second game. We have three players who are questionable: Ben (Roethlisberger) with the appendicitis that he is coming off of; Jerame Tuman with the hamstring; and Troy (Polamalu) with his shoulder. We have three players who are probable: that's Hines Ward with the hamstring; Max Starks with a knee; and Nate Washington with a knee. Again, as it relates to Ben. He'll work some tomorrow. We'll practice tomorrow, we're not going to do anything today. We won't make any decisions Wednesday or Thursday. We'll probably wait until Friday or Saturday before we see how he feels and where he's at and we'll go from there. It's the same with Jerame. Jerame will work Wednesday and we'll see how he feels Thursday. So we'll have more of an update on him later in the week. That's the status of our team. Certainly the game we played last Thursday against Miami, we did a lot of good things but still left ourselves a lot of room for improvement. But the fact is, we had one turnover, one penalty. I thought we played very aggressively. If you can do that and still have just the one turnover and one penalty, that's a line we're trying to walk week in and week out. I thought we did a good job on third downs on both sides of the ball and I thought we played well in the fourth quarter. Certainly we left ourselves some room for improvement in all three phases, but I thought it was a good start. We're getting ready to go down and play a good team in Jacksonville. It's a team that came off a very impressive win against Dallas. They came back after being down 10-0. They're a good football team. They were 12-4 a year ago and we've played them the last two years. We won on a last-second field goal two years ago. We lost in overtime last year. It's a team that doesn't just play us tough, they play everybody tough. They're a talented football team in all three phases, they're well coached. They play tough and hard. It's going to be a big challenge for us to go down there next Monday night. We're going to have to prepare well because it's going to take our best effort to go down there and beat this team.

Are they one of the few teams that can match your team physically?

I think there's a number of teams. They certainly play that way. We're not the only team that takes that approach. Certainly they match up well against us. They feel very confident playing against us. Every time we play against them it's a tough matchup and I don't see it being any different Monday night.

Does it play into your hands playing against a team that likes to play like you?

It's tough to say. A lot of teams attempt to take that approach. The most important thing is how you execute, not the approach you take. This is a team that won 12 out of 16 games a year ago playing in a pretty tough division. Their success is well documented and I think you can see that with how they carry themselves on the field.

Is their passing game different without Jimmy Smith and has one guy stepped up into that role?

No. I think it's like anything. That will evolve over time. But they've got big, tall receivers. Reggie Williams is the guy who can kind of stretch the field. But you look at (Matt) Jones and (Ernest) Wilford, those are big guys. Those are guys who do a great job of positioning themselves and Byron Leftwich does a good job of putting the ball where they can make plays. And then certainly you couple that with the running of Fred Taylor, certainly we know what he's capable of doing. It's a very balanced team that's got big, tall receivers. We've matched up against them in that past. If you don't get your position and get your head around, these guys are going to go up and get the ball. It's going to test our ability to be disciplined in coverage. At the same time, we're going to have to be physical because that's how these guys like to play.

The scheduling of these first two games seems to favor you, especially with Ben, because you have so much time between games.

This is true. That's the one thing when looking at it. But there wasn't much of one when you went from the last preseason to the first game. The fact is, we got through that game. Considering the circumstances, you get 10 days, almost 11, before you play the next one, certainly it was a big benefit. We'll turn around after that one and have a short week before we play Cincinnati. The schedule is going to be what it is, there's three of the four games we start with at night and two of those are on the road. It's a tough schedule, a tough first month. But that's what we talked about doing, trying to get off to a good start because that's very important.

What's going to be the decision on whether Ben will start?

Probably just see how he feels. Talk to him and see how efficiently he can move around and go from there.

There's no more danger of injuring it worse, there are no sutures or anything like that?

From that perspective I think he should be fine. I think with any player, it's how they feel. We'll work with him and talk to him and go from there.

Does he have to practice at some point and will it be a gametime decision?

Yes and yes. Yes he needs to practice and yes it could be a gametime decision if it gets to that point. I can't answer that right now.

But you don't need to see him practice?

Yeah, I need to see him practice. He's not going to sit there and not practice up until Monday and then have me say go out there and play. You have to practice.

Najeh Davenport, what kind of role do you see him playing?

It's hard to say. We have to see what he's able to pick up, how comfortable he is. He's a proven big back. We were kind of looking for that. Cedrick (Humes) was a good runner in the preseason, but looking at our football team, the ability to get Najeh and what's he's done, I've watched him play and I think he fits what we're looking for. He's a young guy who can also play some in our kicking game. He's played third down and played fullback. He gives you some versatility. I sat down and talked with him last week. There are no guarantees what his role will be. I think he's just excited about the opportunity. I think he was just the one guy out there who fit what we were looking for with the makeup of our roster.

Will he dress for Monday's game?

That's a possibility, yes.

What did you think of your coverage units without Chidi (Iwuoma)?

I don't think it was so much reflective of that. I thought the coverage guys obviously have to get better. I don't think it should be said it was just because we didn't have Chidi. I don't think it was reflective of that. I don't think some of the kicks were as good as I'd like to see. I think overall the performance was not what I'd like to see or up to the standards that have been set around here. Hopefully it will get better in the coming weeks. Some of it is on me. I saved some of those guys from going out there in the preseason. I didn't expose them in the preseason. I saved some of the guys who had done it in the past, they didn't cover any kicks in the preseason because I wanted to look at some other guys. I told them, I put that first week on me because that was their first exposure. Even guys like Clint Kriewaldt and James Harrison, those guys didn't do much in the preseason. So I think we have to work out some of the kinks. It's all encompassing from the kicks to the coverage, but I think we'll get better.

I know you're happy to get the win, but are you happy to get the first game behind you to distance yourself from the Super Bowl and all of the ceremonies?

Yeah. I think all of those things are behind us. All the talk of the past is behind us. We're in a pretty good division now. I think that speaks for itself. There's no margin for error. We've got to get better than we played last Thursday night. We're dealing with the present now. Yeah, I'm very glad we're able to talk about 2006 and no more about 2005.

The temperature was very high in Jacksonville last week. It's supposed to be in the 60s here this week. What will you do to get your guys ready for that?

Obviously playing at night will help somewhat. We'll see what the long-term effects will be from the weather, if it keeps us inside. If we are inside, we'll condition it accordingly.

What will determine if Willie Reid returns kicks Monday?

Just the makeup of the roster. That was the tough thing. You have the four receivers we have with Santonio (Holmes) being the fourth guy. Sean Morey is such a critical part of our kicking game, it's hard to dress six receivers. It's more the makeup the game day roster than anything.

If you determine that Ben will play, will you keep (Brian) St. Pierre on the roster?

I don't anticipate any more roster moves at this point prior to the game on Monday.

(We have an Ellis Cannon sighting, buckle down) You mentioned playing well in the fourth quarter. Is part of that the offense and defense playing off of each other? You had the long drive offensively before the fumble and the defense was getting rested and allowing Dick LeBeau to do more with some of the playmakers.

I think that's always true. We are a football team that feeds off of each other. I think every time Miami scored, we came back and responded. I think the way you respond off of a negative series or play is always important. We were able to come back after they scored a touchdown to come back and score ourselves. They come back and score again and we come back with an 18-play drive, which was a good response that certainly didn't end that way. But I like the way our team responded. We had the field position there, we let them get a couple of first downs, but we were able to stop them on a critical third down in the fourth quarter. And then we came back and hit the big play to Heath (Miller). Our football team can play better and will need to play a lot better, but we did a lot of good things.

You mentioned the strength of the division, was that obvious on Sunday?

I thought so, with the highlights I saw, yeah.

Cleats at Heinz Field?

I mentioned it to the players. We had a lot of guys slipping and sliding. I felt like more of our guys were doing it than their guys for whatever reason. I brought it to their attention and hopefully it will be something that's rectified in the future.

Is there a maximum number of carries you'd like to see Willie Parker get and how much does his size factor into that?

It's not so much his size I think it's the size in relation to 16 games and having him fresh. I don't think I want to give Willie 30 carries every game. When we're running the football, we've got to be able to utilize our other guys. It's something we just have to monitor. Last year in the first game, he had 22 and in the second game he had 25. Then we started backing back down again. I think it's got to be something we monitor and see how he feels. Certainly he didn't have a lot in the preseason. He didn't touch the ball a lot there. But when you get into the season and a game in and game out, three, four, five games in a row, you have to monitor that.

As you monitor that, are you hoping Davenport will be that guy to come in and be a physical guy?

I'm not ready to name anybody. Hopefully somebody will be able to come in and fill that role. I'm very comfortable with the backs we have on this team that we'll be able to do that.

Has Ben already started to lobby hard to play Monday and do you expect him to do that?

Yes and yes. We talked yesterday. He's in today and has been throwing to some receivers today. I'm sure we'll be talking a lot in the next few days.

Does he have to lobby much?

I don't know if that's the correct word, lobby, we talked. We'll go from there.

Is there a point where it's not the pain, it's the follow through?

It's everything. Again, the bottom line is making sure he's comfortable and he feels like he can protect himself and he's not going out there thinking about those things. It's the fact of getting the clearance and dealing with the workload seeing how his body gets through that. You can say coming off the surgery, but the kid's been through a lot. I just want to make sure he's comfortable and he feels good about himself. We'll make the decision at that point. I'm not going to say, "the doctors say he's ready to go." He's a very competitive young man. We'll talk and we'll go from there.

A manager will go to the mound and ask a pitcher if he's tired. He expects the pitcher to tell him how he really feels. Are you at the point now where you ask Ben and he'll tell you how he really feels?

Yeah. It's gotten better. I think I can interpret some things that are being said as to where it lies. I think that comes with time. I think our relationship is a good one, at least from my perspective it is. Yeah, we talk enough that I think I've got a feel for him and how he is.

Trent Green?

It happens. We're in a contact sport. I talked to Ben the other day and I told him that this isn't like baseball where you slide into second base and you're looking to get back up. You slide in football, you'd better protect yourself. Even Charlie (Batch) the other night, it's hard for a defender who's coming at full speed to suddenly the guy is sliding at the last minute, to come to a complete halt. Each one is subjective. I didn't think there was anything ill-intended with what happened. I think it was just one of those things that happened in our game.

Do you think coaches will be more aggressive when they throw the red flag?

We've been told that before. We've always had the freedom to do that. That has never been an issue in my mind.

Couldn't you run out on the field?

Yeah, you can go out of the box and go out to the official on the side and he'll blow the whistle. I've told them before that I'm looking at it and they tell you not to get too close to the snap count. That's really a non-issue.

Did they lose a good player in (Reggie) Heyward?

Yeah, he was their leading sacker last year. They still have some pretty good players. I guess they're going to put Rob Meier in there and still have Marcellus Wiley. They lost a good player, yes, but they have a lot of good players on that team. They're a team that is very talented and very deep.

How tough are their tackles to run against?

Marcus Stroud and John Henderson are a load. Both of those guys are Pro Bowl tackles. In the running game you have to be patient. You have to accept the fact that you're going to get two or three yards. You talk about two or three yards and a cloud of dust, that's what you're going to have because we're going to try to do it and continue to do it and hopefully it will be something where we'll break a big one for two or three yards.

Leftwich takes exception at being called immobile. He says he moves better than most. Would you agree?

I think Byron Leftwich is a winner. You can talk about the things he can't do. But when it's all said and done, he wins a lot of football games. He's done it in college and the pros. He's got a presence that makes guys believe in him. He's a tough guy and I think you can see that in his play. I think the guy is a good football player.

Improvement from game one to game two?

I don't look at it from that perspective. I look for improvement every week. I guess that's the only thing I'm looking at. Games unfold differently every week. In my mind, the first month is more of an information gathering process more than anything. You find out about your team. Somewhere in that first month you'll be faced with some adversity. How your players respond to that and how they step up will speak a lot about your team. I don't look at the improvement from week one to week two. We play a lot more games than (colleges) do. Every week you're playing a pretty good football team. I hope we do improve from week one to week two because we're playing a pretty good football team.

It seems like quarterbacks are getting rid of the ball quicker, does that make it tougher for the pass rush to get to them?

If they are. I saw something where the sacks were up from the first week higher than they've ever been so I guess they've got to get a little quicker.

Is that an constant adjustment?

Yeah. It's a fast game. I think what happens, the speed of the game goes up in the first week of the regular season and sometimes there's a little bit of acclimation that needs to take place, even if you're a veteran. The players all turn it up a notch. That's why the young players are like, woah, it really is fast. That speed is faster the first week. That's why defenses, for the most past, start out a little better than the offenses because of that.

Joey (Porter) had a pretty good opener?

I thought he played pretty good.

When did Troy get dinged up?

I don't know. He didn't say.

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