Bill Cowher press conference, Oct. 3

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher met the media Tuesday to discuss this week's game versus the San Diego Chargers. The transcript of that press conference follows:

Opening Statement: OK. Let me give you the injury situation for this week. We've got two players questionable, Ricardo Colclough with a neck; it's something that surfaced as he came back from the weekend. We're getting tests as we speak. We'll have more information as the week goes on. And then we have Najeh Davenport with a calf. He strained it yesterday in practice. We'll see how he is as the week goes on. And Troy (Polamalu) is probable with the shoulder. We're relatively healthy heading into week four for us. Obviously it's a big challenge going to San Diego. They're coming off a tough loss at Baltimore. Again, you look at them, they're number two in rush offense; number one in the league in total defense. It's a stellar group and we know the challenge from going out there and playing last year. We're prepared to go out and face a tough battle and we'll go from there.

Does LaDanian Tomlinson become even more of a priority considering Phillip Rivers is a first-year starter?

These guys are number two in the league in rush offense with LaDanian. And Michael Turner has been another guy who's come in and given them a great contrast to LaDanian. There's no question you see them playing pretty close to the cuff. The first two games they got ahead quickly and they ran the ball. This last game was played pretty close, they led throughout the game and lost it in the last minute. I think the one thing you're seeing is that they are getting more comfortable with Phillip in each game. I think when you have the ability to run the ball like they do, they're playing to their strengths.

What were your impressions with Rivers when he came out and what are you impressions now?

I think coming out, everyone had those three guys, (Eli) Manning, Phillip and Ben (Roethlisberger) were the top three quarterbacks. They all had their strengths. Phillip came off a very good college career. He's a charismatic kid. Certainly I think being out in that system, he has taken over. He's performed, to this point, well. Certainly they'll open things up the more comfortable that they become with him and as the game dictates as well. He's got a strong arm, he's got a good feel for moving in the pocket. He's a good athlete and sees the field very well. I'm very impressed with him and have a lot of respect for him.

Did Baltimore throw a lot of stuff at him in that game?

They did some different things. Baltimore's a good defense, no question. It was a game that dictated at lot that took place. They got up on them. They took the first drive down and kicked a couple of field goals. It went back and forth and was a game that could have been one by either team. I was impressed how he handled the pressure from Baltimore and his decision making. He's not turned the ball over. He's made good decisions and he's run that offense effectively.

You've had a lot of success in October, is that history to you?

I don't look at the past years to see what any month is going to bring or any year is going to bring. The biggest thing is the players not to get caught up in looking at Baltimore or what Cincinnati's doing. We've just got to get better as a football team. That's the biggest thing, getting better on a daily basis in practice. And then consequently taking that onto the playing field. Each individual and each unit try to improve on the previous week. There's too much football left to get caught up in all those other things except for us. You've got to be narrow-minded and short-term focused when it comes to this time of year. There's a lot of football left to be played and we're playing a good football team. The focus needs to be on San Diego and us getting better this week.

Will you change anything on the depth chart at wide receiver?

I'm not planning on it. No.

Would you like to see the passing game develop more over the past three games?

Yeah and I think it will. Getting Ben back out there and working every day is going to help create some of the timing and continuity. I think those things will get better. And as Santonio (Holmes) gets more comfortable with what he's doing, you can't lose sight of the fact that Nate (Washington) is a first-time full-time player. He really didn't play in any football games until we got to the playoffs last year. We have some young guys there that just need to play. You're going to have some of the natural inconsistencies with these guys growing and learning and being able to adjust week in and week out. That doesn't happen overnight. That does take time. That in itself will create some of the consistency that has been lacking.

Will Willie Reid not dress and return punts?

I don't think anything I was discussing has any relevance to that. We'll see how the week unfolds.

But you haven't made a decision who will return punts?


How has Santonio fared?

He's done fine. He's just got to play. I'm not concerned about that. Those things take time. I think it would be unfair to sit and assess where he is week in and week out. You've got to let time play the whole thing out. I'm very comfortable with where he's at and what he's done with his opportunities. Again, it's just getting him the opportunities and him making the most of them when he gets them.

Can you talk about how the tight end position has evolved with a guy like (Antonio) Gates?

It's evolved. Look no further than our division. You've got Todd Heap and Kellen Winslow and then as you talked about with Gates and Randy McMichael. There are guys who create potential mismatches. I know when we talked about getting Troy in the draft a few years ago, getting a guy at safety who can match up with these guys is not easy to do. These are guys who are lined up like receivers in a two-point stance. They can create physical mismatches. They can give you match-up problems. Antonio Gates is one of those guys. They do a good job of moving him around. They use him like a receiver and try to create mismatches because he's bigger than the defensive backs you put on him and faster than the linebackers you try to put on him. So you've got to be careful how much you use any one guy against a premiere player like that. Certainly he's a guy you have to be aware of and he can become a match-up problem.

When you play a team coached by someone you know (Marty Schottenheimer) can it become a strategy problem because you know each other so well?

No. We've been apart for a few years now, 15 to be exact. Marty's a good football coach. The one thing you know about his football teams is that they will play hard, they will play physical and they will be sound. They're football teams that are not going to beat themselves and we understand that. He leaves no stone unturned. If you have a weakness somewhere, he's going to exploit that. That's been his history and working with him, I understand that. He makes you make sure you're on top of what you're doing. He's got a good football team and he's had good football teams everywhere he's been and this year's no different.

You mentioned you wanted to see improvement from the football team. Even in the limited practices you've had since Cincinnati, have you gotten a sense that it is coming about?

I think we're fine. I don't think anybody is pushing a panic button. I think there's been a better sense of urgency in practice. We've got to take that and transfer that onto the field. We knew this first month we would face some pretty good football teams. We're not where we want to be. The focus right now is on us and getting better and hopefully we'll be able to do that.

Should Davenport's calf be healthy enough, is he ready to contribute?

Yeah I think so. Without a doubt, he's become more comfortable so that's a true statement.

Do you have any ideas where he might contribute the most?

Just as a runner, as another guy. We feel good about the four guys we have. Duce has looked better and better. He's a legitimate option as well. I go back to last year, we used four guys and needed all four of them. You can never have enough good running backs. We'll see how the injury is and go from there.

You said with Duce that he's worked his way back. Has it been his knee, his age?

No, just getting his legs back. He didn't have a training camp two years ago and really didn't play a lot last season, just practice. We got him back this year in training camp, so he really had a year that he had to get back. I feel like he's getting some of his legs back after watching him practice the past two weeks.

(Cripes, another question about the bye coming at a good time)

If I had my choice I would not have it after the third game, I would rather have it midway through the season. If you gave me a choice, I'd have it after week eight or seven, somewhere in there. At least you could kind of assess where you are. I think it's hard early to get a true assessment of who you are and where you are because you're kind of trying to figure out your own team. I think the longer you're into it, you have a better sense of what your strengths are and, more importantly, what your weaknesses are so that you can address those in the bye. Even if it's just having a chance to sit back with a week off of being able to reflect a little bit because it's hard to do that in the course of trying to prepare for week in and week out.

After Willie (Parker) had 29 carries in the opener, you said you didn't want him to have a steady diet of that. Is there a point you think he can handle that many carries?

I'm not going to jeopardize trying to win a football game and it's something we'll continue to monitor. But where we are now from the first game to the second game and the bye coming after the third game, it's something that I said earlier. But it's something that we have to keep in mind as we go and see how this unfolds. It's something we'll continue to monitor, but I think right now, he's fine.

Jerome (Bettis) did carry a lot and he was bigger. Is that an indication of how much a back can carry it, how big he is?

I don't think it's the size as much as when you go through a game and a guy has 29 carries, how many of those were big hits. How many times did he run out of bounds or get tripped up. I think you have to look at it subjectively. Is he the type of guy who is running over people 17 or 18 times he carried the ball? Or is he a guy who got tripped up? Obviously a guy who's a pounding-type of runner, there's going to be more of a lingering effect down the road because of the style of running. It's something you have to look at subjectively coming out of a game. And you talk to him after a game and see how he feels. Some games you come out with 23 or 24 carries and you feel great because you didn't have that many big hits. You come out with 17 or 18 carries between the tackles and it was a grind because you had three or four guys hitting you every gain. I think you can't monitor just based on carries, it's the kind of game that it was and the type of hits that took place. That's something you have to talk to the player about and monitor it and deal with it accordingly.

Tomlinson only had 62 yards rushing last year and five or six catches for another 60 yards, is that a match-up that's difficult?

He's a special back, no question about it. You don't see a lot of big hits on LT. He's got great patience. He's got great acceleration and he'll bounce it, he'll cut it back. He's one of those special guys when he gets the ball in his hands. He's a difference maker. He can take it and go the distance any time he touches the ball. He's a guy who will test your discipline on defense. You certainly don't want him out in space on defenders.

When you talked about good things in the Cincinnati game, was your running game and line play part of that?

I thought for the most part it was how our team played. I think what you said is true. We ran the ball and it was the best we played offensively in terms of protecting the quarterback and just the way we were able to move the ball. We did turn it over. You look at it defensively; we were good on third downs. We were able to stop the run. We played Cincinnati well defensively. We had six sacks. Again we had a couple of big plays in the red zone that stopped us. And we had the turnovers that were the big factor in the game. We had a lot of encouraging things in the game, but when you don't win the game, it's hard to look at it as any positives, but I was encouraged.

Albert Haynesworth?

I thought it was dealt with appropriately.

Five games about right for that?

The minimum in my mind.

You mentioned Rivers as being a charismatic guy. Did you know him at all since he went to the same school as you did?

It's just a general statement you make about guys from that school. No, it was just through the preparation of going through the draft and going down and meeting with him at their workout and at the combine. Just watching how he handled all of those things and from the people around him I heard nothing but positive things.

Did you meet with him before the draft here?

No. We had a meeting with him at the combine. He came into the room there and we went down to the workout.

Your initial plan was to have Ben sit for a year behind (Tommy) Maddox. They had him sit for two years. Is there a better way to do that?

It's so subjective. You look at the situation around the league with (Matt) Leinart and (Vince) Young. They're both going to become starters in what, week four? I don't know that there's any real plan that is the right way of doing it. What's best for your football team? I think if you try to do it at the expense of the football team, I'm not sure he'll have the proper support. So I think you have to be very careful. It varies with where the football team is and the individual. And it goes back again to, in my opinion, who gives the football team the best chance of winning. I don't think you want to prioritize one person's development at the expense of the team's success, regardless of what the records are. You've got too many people out there that you're asking to play and sacrifice a lot. And to sit there and try to prioritize one person's development at the expense of that sends the wrong message. That is my opinion. If the guy gives you the best chance of winning that week, then play him. Only the coaches have the best feel for that.

Did he appear confused at all by what Baltimore was showing him?

No, not really. Not at all. It was a game they played and went back and forth. It was a defensive battle. The defense stopped Baltimore the whole game outside of that last drive in the fourth quarter. I think they got kind of backed up and got a little conservative. But it was a game they led the whole way and I'm sure they feel like they should have won.

Why has their run defense been so solid?

It's not so much what they're doing, but the players who are doing it. Jamal Williams in the middle and Luis Castillo and (Igor) Olshansky are the ends. They play a 3-4 a lot like we do. The two bookends are (Shawne) Merriman and (Shaun) Phillips and then (Donnie) Edwards and (Randall) Godfrey. Their front seven are really stout and are very good and very active. It's a 3-4 defense that's a grind to run against. They're very good at what they do and very active. And they've got some corners who can cover. They're No. 1 in total defense and No. 1 against the pass. It's going to be a grind. You've got to be patient and persistent.

Marty Schottenheimer the godfather of this defense or are you?

Marty's the godfather of everything right now. He's been coaching football for a long time. I think he's coached 3-4 the 4-3, he's coached them all. He will take his personnel and do what's best for his team. I think he brought in Wade Phillips and Wade has done a good job. And Marty oversees everything they're doing. I just think he's a very good football coach. He holds the players accountable. But at the same time, he puts them in positions where they can be successful. That's been the secret of his success that he's had. He's been successful year in and year out and his record speaks for that.

(Inaudible question about playing in San Diego.)

We played out there last year. We know what kind of game it's going to be. It's going to be a hostile environment. It's going to be loud. We're playing a team that's coming off a disappointing loss with high expectations. We have tremendous respect for them and the type of game it's going to be. It's going to be a very physical football game. There's a team that likes to run the ball in them, and a team that likes to run the ball in us. I think the team that makes the fewest mistakes will win. We know that going in. For us, we want to play better than we did last week. We know the challenge we have in San Diego.

Is their one-two combination with Michael Turner as good as there is in the league?

I dont think there's any question. Michael Turner has evolved into a very good back in this league. He's a guy who will hit the thing north and south. He will break arm tackles. You saw him last year he had the big 80-yard run against Indianapolis late in the game that kind of sealed their victory and snapped the win streak that Indianapolis had. He's a guy whose got size, he's got speed. And like I said, with him and LaDanian, they have a great one-two punch.

Troy benefited from the week off?

A lot, yeah, he really did. He'll attest to that. He was running around yesterday. And it's gotten better each week. The bye helped a lot.

How about Hines (Ward)?

Yeah, I think so. We had good work last week and yesterday we had a good practice. It's good getting all of those receivers out there with Ben. Time should create a little more continuity and repetition and were getting that right now.

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