Wednesday Practice Report

PITTSBURGH - When the season opened, Steelers linebacker Jason Gildon was just 11 sacks short of L.C. Greenwood's all-time team record of 73 1/2 career sacks; and defensive end Aaron Smith was coming off the most productive season by a Steelers lineman since 1995.

But five games into the 2002 season, Gildon and Smith, who combined for 37 1/2 sacks in the previous two seasons, have just one sack apiece. It's not exactly what the Steelers had in mind when they gave the duo two of the biggest contract extensions in team history this offseason - five years and $23 million for Gildon, and six years and $25 million for Smith.

Gildon, who has 22 tackles this season, admitted Wednesday that he's felt some pressure to live up to the new contract. "Yeah, I'd have to say a little bit," the 30-year-old Gildon said. "But I think the most pressure came from the fact that we have a great team here. I think the expectations of going out and winning a championship outweigh those."

Part of the problem has been how teams have chosen to attack the Steelers this season, spreading them out with three and four-wide receiver sets. New England and Oakland did it extensively in the first two games, while Cleveland, New Orleans, and Cincinnati also threw it at the Steelers more than just on third down plays.

Because of that, Gildon has been forced into coverage more than in the past. It's not only affecting his numbers, but Smith's also. Smith, who had a career-high eight sacks last season, lines up on the inside of Gildon, a two-time Pro Bowl player. But with the linebacker split wide, he now sees more blockers than he did in the past.

"Obviously, when Jason's beside me, it makes it easier for me because that's an All-Pro that they have to account for," said Smith, who has 25 tackles and one sack this season. "I'm just not getting the breaks that I did last season. Last season, there were times when I was coming in unblocked. That hasn't happened this season."

But neither Gildon or Smith will admit to being frustrated at this point.

"Not yet. I don't really anticipate it getting to that," Gildon said. "Right now, I'm not where I'd like to be, but I'm thinking that we're starting to turn this thing around. I'm confident that when we get this thing turned around, I can get back on track." Said Smith, "If we keep on winning, I don't care if everyone else on this team has a sack except me."

In other news Wednesday, linebacker Kendrell Bell participated in a full practice and looked much closer to returning to the team's lineup Monday night against Indianapolis.

"We'll get the pads on in the next couple of days and see how he is," said head coach Bill Cowher of Bell, who has not played since the season opener at New England. "My initial observation is that he looked much further along than he did last week." Bell remains questionable, however, for Monday night's game.


Odds and end zones

In addition to Bell, running back Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala (ribs) returned to practice Wednesday. Like Bell, Fuamatu-Ma'afala is questionable. Tight end Jerame Tuman (quad) and running back Jerome Bettis (knee) did not practice. Tuman is questionable, while Bettis is probable. Long-snapper Mike Schneck (elbow) practiced sparingly for the first time in three weeks, but remains questionable. ... A television crew from NFL Films is following Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox around this week for a halftime show during Monday night's game titled "Seven Days to Monday Night."


-- Dale Lolley







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