Notebook: Davenport the new return man

Read inside on how Najeh Davenport uses his 247 pounds to optimize kickoff returns, and which injured players were upgraded and downgraded, and why Chris Kemoeatu might play on Sunday night.

PITTSBURGH – Najeh Davenport returned only one kickoff last Sunday night but it was enough to impress Bill Cowher. The Pittsburgh Steelers' coach named Davenport as the replacement for injured Willie Reid on the kickoff return team.

"You saw Naj hit the thing," said Cowher. "I mean, he's got pretty good speed for a big guy. Some of those guys on kickoffs sometimes can break arm tackles and get on a guy and kind of give you a different element. With him and Santonio [Holmes] we feel good about it."

Davenport replaced a tired Ike Taylor (who'd replaced Reid) in the fourth quarter and returned a kickoff past the 35-yard line. But a holding penalty was called on Sean Morey and Davenport was only given credit for a 26-yard return. That's almost two yards above the career average he compiled in four seasons with the Green Bay Packers.

"I led the league in kickoff returns in 2003," he said. "But I was four [attempts] short of going to the Pro Bowl. I needed 20 but I had 16 and I didn't qualify. I started late during the season, after our returner went down. They put me back there and then I started doing it a lot. Me and Robert Ferguson were back there and after about my 10th return he started asking to get some of them. I didn't know you could go to the Pro Bowl off of it, but I was the primary and we switched sides and I'd let him take a couple of them and that kind of messed me up. But the dude beneath me [in the league statistics] averaged 28 yards."

Davenport averaged 31.6 yards per return in 2003. He returned 24 more over the next two seasons and left Green Bay with a 24.1 average and no touchdowns. He feels that his 247 pounds give him an advantage.

"My thought process on kickoff returns is it's like a counter trap," Davenport said. "You set up your first kickout block and you're downhill and you've got dudes coming at you this way and they're going to have a free shot at you, but nine times out of 10 it's going to be arm tackles. So you're running downhill through a couple arm tackles."

"When I was at Philadelphia we played against Najeh in a Monday night game," said Morey. "He's a beast. You can't sleep on his speed either. It's deceptive. He can run and he can break tackles. You've got to tackle him with everything you have. The tackle that I probably could've had in the game, he broke it up the middle. Guys like that, you've got to use perfect technique. You can't arm-tackle guys like that."

INJURY REPORT

The Steelers downgraded linebacker Joey Porter (hamstring) and Reid (foot) to out for this week's game, and upgraded defensive end Brett Keisel (ribs) to probable. Deshea Townsend (hamstring) remains questionable.

"Joey is definitely out this week and then we'll take it week to week," said Cowher. "It really wasn't as bad as we … I guess it could've been better but it wasn't a significant injury from that standpoint. Obviously Deshea's is something we're still hopeful that he can play in some role on Sunday, so again we'll make a decision later in the week."

Cowher said Bryant McFadden would replace Townsend if necessary, and that rookie safety Anthony Smith could see more playing time. The Kansas City Chiefs have ruled the following players out of Sunday's game: RB Michael Bennett (hamstring), QB Trent Green (head), CB Benny Sapp (knee), LB Rich Scanlon (LB) and OT Will Svitek (knee).

Wide receiver/return man Dante Hall (hip) was downgraded from probable to questionable and tackle Kyle Turley (back) was upgraded from questionable to probable. Also listed as probable are RB Larry Johnson (neck) and TE Kris Wilson (ankle).

CHEMICAL BURN

Kendall Simmons missed practice again with his burned heel. The story is that he took a chemical ice bag home and fell asleep with it strapped to his foot, and thus the burn. He's listed as probable, but Cowher called him "still questionable" at first, and when pressed said: "He's probable. I usually kind of wait till Friday to give you a pretty accurate update on it. It was a slip on my part."

Was it an indication that Cowher intends to downgrade the right guard? The speculation is that, since diabetics must protect against foot infections, Simmons will miss the game and Chris Kemoeatu will replace him in the lineup. Is the 344-pound Kemoeatu ready?

"Coming into my second year there are still a few wrinkles I've got to get cleaned up," Kemoeatu said. "And I'm not really used to being in there with the older guys, taking reps with them. It's just technique stuff I've got to work on. But physically I'm ready to play. Other than getting used to things and being next to Jeff [Hartings] and Max [Starks], things have been good so far."


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