Post-Game Observations

All those people who wanted the Steelers to take quarterback Chad Pennington with the eighth-overall pick in the first round of the 2000 draft instead of wide receiver Plaxico Burress should feel a little silly now. Pennington remains buried on the New York Jets bench behind 38 year-old Vinny Testaverde, who will never be confused with being the second coming of Joe Montana.

Burress, meanwhile, had 1,000 yards receiving last season and helped Kordell Stewart - the man the Pennington backers wanted him to replace - make his first Pro Bowl. And Burress caught three passes for 57 yards - including a leaping 40-yard gain down the sideline - in limited play against the Jets, demonstrating that he may be prepared to take the next step and become a Pro Bowl wideout. Sure, Burress has been involved in a few minor off-season problems. But at this point, he has way more upside and value than Pennington.

Maybe if Steelers head coach Bill Cowher wasn't giving the team so much time off, it would have corrected the special teams gaffes that plagued it against the Jets. A blocked punt and penalty for having 12 men on the field on another punt were reminiscent of the problems that hurt the team time after time last season. The Steelers have spent a lot of time working on special teams at their training camp at St. Vincent College, yet the problems were still there. Cowher gave several veterans last Friday off and then canceled practice last Sunday. This despite the fact that the team was only scheduled for a walk-through on Wednesday and was not due back to St. Vincent College until 7 p.m. Saturday night. Both major special teams errors from Thursday's game are certainly correctable, but only on the practice field.

Speaking of practice, linebacker Kendrell Bell - getting his first shot at being a three-down player - admitted to being winded on the Jets opening drive. That is why, on a third-and-14 play from the Pittsburgh 19 in the first quarter, Bell came off the field, with Clark Haggans taking his place as the right rush end. Vinny Testaverde found running back Chad Morton in the flats for a 16-yard gain to the Pittsburgh 3. Haggans made the tackle on the play, but there is a good chance the 2001 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year would have stopped Morton from getting a first down. Again, a few more practices, maybe with a little conditioning thrown in, wouldn't hurt.

Overall, however, Bell said he felt comfortable with the move from inside linebacker to rush end on passing downs, with outside linebacker Joey Porter moving to the inside. "I think I did a well enough job where we can stick with it just to have Joey on the inside," Bell said. "I think I can make the pressures. I'm good with the games and things like that, just do it a little faster."

Nijrel Eason, a defensive back the Steelers signed in February, after the league mandated that each team send players to NFL Europe, could be a find. The former Arizona State player played for the Frankfurt Galaxy this spring after the Steelers signed him and allocated him to NFL Europe. At 6-1 and 205 pounds, he has excellent size and has been a pleasant surprise at training camp. Eason, who was signed and released as a rookie free agent by the Arizona Cardinals, followed up some solid practices by making three tackles and one interception against the Jets. At this point, he has outplayed both Hank Poteat and LaVar Glover, who are supposed to be battling for the fourth corner spot. Eason isn't likely to beat out Poteat for that spot because of Poteat's experience in the defense, but Glover hasn't shown he is capable of beating out Poteat either.

The Steelers were 0-for-2 scoring touchdowns in the red zone against the Jets, but it's a little too soon to hit the panic button. The first team offense was on the field for only one of those trips when running back Jerome Bettis was stopped on three consecutive runs at the goal line. Yes, that's troublesome, but at the same time, Bettis has really only been practicing - when Cowher hasn't decided to give the team the day off - for a couple of weeks now.

--Dale Lolley

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