Rookies Ward Off Troy Scare

<p> Yesterday was <i>gameday</i>, and true to every Steelers gameday the last umpteen years, it started the same way for this particular fan. Fall out of bed at 6:30am -- some six hours before kickoff -- walk the dog, make some coffee, then hit the Internet. So, sitting before the computer in Steelers shorts, Steelers mug in hand piping hot with black joe, what could possibly ruin this glorious morning? </p>

News Flash: Ward Has Emergency Surgery

Yep, that would do it.

I am no fatalist, far from it. Certainly, Ward's appendicitis is of substantial concern, but an appendectomy is a very routine procedure. Recovery time is quick, sometimes surprisingly so. And Ward is no sissy (like that would matter).

No, what troubled me was not Ward's health. That question had been answered in the article -- the surgery was deemed a success and Ward was recovering nicely. Nor was it his availability for the opener against New England. As I said, the recovery time on these things are surprisingly quick; I fully expect Ward to be starting against the Patriots. Hopefully the same can be said for linebacker Kendrell Bell.

What was most disturbing for yours truly was how this news may affect the pecking order at wide receiver, and the looming roster cut-down(s). I want Troy Edwards gone. I think that is more than clear given some of my recent posts. Ward's questionable status leaves the Steelers somewhat inexperienced at the position, and heading into the biggest game of the season (hey…its August, right?), that is a concern. History would dictate that retaining Edwards is now a given. After all, can we really expect Bill Cowher to roll into Gillette Stadium with Boy Wonder Plaxico Burress, newly acquired veteran wideout Terance Mathis, and rookie quarterback-turned-receiver Antwaan Randle El as his top three receivers?

Needless to say, I was pretty bummed about the idea of the resident bonehead Troy Edwards being offered the opportunity to commit penalties (he drew another yellow hankie on special teams in the third quarter yesterday) and drop passes on national television yet again. Getting off to a fast start -- something that happens all too infrequently for the Steelers -- seems to be all the more important this year, given the opening day opponent. Starting Edwards does not favor victory in New England.

Edwards was given significant playing time versus the Detroit Lions Saturday. As expected he did nothing. It was suggested that he is being showcased as possible trade material. Fine, but he sure didn't help that cause much either.

All is well today however. Yesterday it rained (at least it did in the Northeast), this morning the sun is shining brightly. Billy Cowher has made it so.

Randle El started in place of Ward at flanker and led the Steelers in receiving yards with 60, including a "Jordan-esque" 29-yarder for a touchdown at the expense of Detroit defensive backs Todd Lyght and Eric Davis. Cowher has said that it will be Antwaan, and not Troy, that will start outside if Hines is to miss the opener. Fellow rookie Lee Mays contributed 45 more, and tied Randle El in receptions with three. Mays also added a fantastic 61-yard kickoff return to open the second half that would set-up RB Amos Zereoue's 39-yard TD off a screen pass from QB Charlie Batch.

Again, these are rookies, and yet they still made plays where Edwards did not. Ward's questionable status likely guarantees Edwards' roster spot until the final cut, but it would take another injury/setback at the position to derail his departure.

Quick Hits

Is it me, or does rookie linebacker Larry Foote look like a midget? He appears much smaller than his listed height/weight of 6-1 and 234 lbs. Still, while he may be winging it half the time while learning the Steelers complicated 3-4 defensive scheme, the man is still making plays.

Foote finished the game tied for the team lead with 4 tackles, and added an interception and a fumble recovery. He is surely no Kendrell Bell, but the 2001 Defensive Rookie of the Year started out much the same way, playing solely on instincts and athletic ability. I'll go so far as to say that Foote will challenge James Farrior for the starter's job at the "Buck" in 2003 -- so long as he can gain another fifteen pounds by then.

I strongly questioned the pick of Florida State safety Chris Hope back in April, and while he has been quiet, he again was among the leaders in tackles. Oh, and it was Hope that forced the fumble by Detroit rookie RB James Mungro that Foote recovered. I would like nothing more than to see Hope add much-needed athleticism to the safety position, particularly at free safety. Alexander is a heady player, but he is also very limited. A FS with range would do wonders for this defense, even with Lee Flowers at strong safety.

-- Blitzburgh

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