Notebook: Chidi answers prayers, questions

PITTSBURGH – The fans have spoken. Chidi has been freed. The sparkplug of the Steelers' special teams last season was cut the day before this season's opener, but Chidi Iwuoma is back.

"I've been doing a little traveling but I'm glad to be here now," said the man who'll return to the gunner position he made famous during his four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Since being released Sept. 6 for quarterback Brian St. Pierre, Iwuoma spent time with the New England Patriots and St. Louis Rams, and the Steelers spent time near the bottom of the league's coverage statistics.

The Steelers rank 30th in opponents' average starting position after kickoffs and 30th in net punting. The poor coverage units nearly cost them against the Cleveland Browns in the previous meeting when Josh Cribbs returned a fourth-quarter kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown to make the Steelers' rally all the more difficult.

Iwuoma returned to the team Monday and had time to answer some questions.

Q: Were you upset or angry at the Steelers?

A: I was alright, maybe a little hurt because you never expect that type of thing to happen. I wasn't bitter or angry because it wasn't based on performance. They told me it was an injury/numbers type thing. In that case there's nothing you can do but hope for the best.

Q: Was it the numbers game again with New England and St. Louis?

A: Always. That will always haunt me, the numbers game, but there's nothing you can do about that.

Q: Did you by any chance look at the Steelers' coverage stats?

A: Yeah, a little bit. I peeked at those a little bit. Things haven't been going too well but I'm definitely here to make something happen. I'm looking forward to getting back on the field, getting back in a Steeler uniform and having a day.

Q: Have you heard from fans?

A: I heard from other people. They tell me what's going on on the Internet. I definitely appreciate what the fans, even my teammates, have said. Everybody was kind of pulling for me to come back here. It definitely meant a lot to me to know that people think of you like that.

Q: What were your teammates saying?

A: I talked to guys all the time and they let me know how much they wanted me back and hoping it would work out. It took a long time but I'm finally here.

Q: There were some athletic players who couldn't do what you did, could they?

A: Definitely. People don't think it's that big of a deal until it happens. If that's what you do, it means that much more to you. I guess my primary role will be special teams, so I'm going to go 100 miles per hour on every play.

RUNNING ON EMPTY

While we're doing that Q&A thing, here's All-Pro guard Alan Faneca on the Steelers' stuck-in-the-mud running attack.

Q: Could you guys be tipping off your run plays?

A: I don't think we're giving anything away. I think they're making it difficult on us, and I think they're trying to make it confusing. That's kind of been the theme of the way teams play us. It doesn't seem like anybody does what we prepared for, or what they've even done to anybody in the past. So I don't think we're giving away anything. I think they're just trying to confuse us to make sure we're on edge.

Q: The gadget plays used to confuse the defense. Is that a critical missing element?

A: No, because even though they're doing things that are uncharacteristic, they still all have their responsibilities. Teams kind of started doing it a little bit last year at the end of the season, but not to the magnitude we've been getting it this year.

Q: Jerome Bettis used to charge you linemen up when he came in. Is that a critical missing element?

A: I think Jerome did a good job of realizing sometimes the situations where we would have the sense that ‘this play's screwed' a little bit and just hit it. Sometimes his size and hitting it, if we gave him a yard or two then he got two or three more so then it was a second-and-five or second-and-six. He had the ability to turn some of those bad plays into good.

QUOTABLE

Bill Cowher on putting rookie receiver Willie Reid on injured reserve:

"He kept working to get back, and the last couple of weeks he's been on the field there's been small steps; I mean very small steps. But it's one of those things where he really wasn't even that close to being able to accelerate, to cut, to doing the things you have to do as a returner, as a receiver. I think the feeling was – given our situation – we ran out of time to wait. In the long run it'll be good for him because we may have been pushing it a little bit to try and get him back and sent him all the way back to step one. I think he's getting better and the inactivity should help him."

X's & O's

The Browns entered the league in 1950 and played in the first six championship games (3-3) and by the end of the 1958 season had built a heretofore insurmountable 16-2 series edge over the Steelers. The Steelers can tie the all-time series at 55-55 with a win tonight. ... Along with ranking 30th in kickoff and punt coverage, the Steelers are 30th in punt returning. They're 12th in kickoff returning. ... The Browns' Dennis Northcutt is fourth in punt returning and Cribbs is fourth in kickoff returning. ... Willie Parker needs 24 yards to reach 1,000. ... During his four years at Oregon State, Browns quarterback Derek Anderson fumbled 23 times, threw 57 interceptions, was sacked 95 times, and completed 51 percent of his passes.

MAN OF YEAR

Charlie Batch was named the Steelers' 2006 Walter Payton Man of the Year for his numerous charity work in the Pittsburgh community. Batch will be one of 32 NFL team winners to qualify for the league's national Payton Man of the Year Award. The winner will be announced during Super Bowl week.


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