Opening statement: We're excited here getting this season started here in ‘08 here at Heinz Field. It's a very dangerous opponent, a team in the Houston Texans that is talented and dangerous in all three phases. They had eight wins last year. They're a young team, talented team, well-coached team, a team on the rise. Offensively, it starts with the quarterback Matt Schaub, the one word to describe him is efficient. He won't make mistakes. He spreads the ball around to a variety of people. Leading that charge, of course, is Andre Johnson, who had 850-plus yards receiving last season and he missed seven games. He's a dangerous man. Opposite of him is (Kevin) Walter, who's dangerous as well. He had 60-plus catches. Owen Daniels the tight end, they get the ball to him in a variety of ways. He's a unique tight end. They throw him screens, split him out in formation. He's a very talented guy. Toting the ball for them is Ahman Green. Ahman Green is Ahman Green. He's been doing it at a high level for a long time. Up front, they're anchored by Chester Pitts, who's started every game in this franchise's history. Next to him they've got a first-rounder named Duane Brown. Defensively, it starts up front for these guys. They've got three first-round picks in their four-man front. That group is led by Mario Williams, who looks like the first pick in the draft. He's a talented player, very disruptive, athletic, powerful, in the backfield a bunch. They've got a variety of line stunts that are very difficult to pick up, not only getting hats on hats, but once you get some hats on hats, you've got to win those battles. They've got some very talented guys. On the second level, the linebacking crew is led by DeMeco Ryan, who tackles everybody sideline to sideline. Those that he doesn't get are gotten by (Morlon) Greenwood. So, it's a very talented group. In the special teams, they've got a couple of veteran kickers in (Kris) Brown and (Matt) Turk. These guys are known commodities. They've done it for a long time. In the return game, they've got a dangerous guy in Andre Davis. Needless to say, as we sit here on Tuesday, we've got some work to do. That's what we're going about doing. We'll get back out with our football team tomorrow and prepare to face that challenge.
Davis will test your special teams right off the bat, didn't he return three for touchdowns last year?
Yeah and two in the last football game. We're familiar with this guy in the AFC North from Cleveland. He's got great straight-line speed. He's fearless. He hits the hole long striding and that's why he generates plays. It's not only in terms of what he does. They've got great schemes, they're well-coached. Joe Marciano, their special teams coach, I worked with. I know what he's capable of. They've got Jacoby Jones. They've got a young rookie, Steve Slaton from WVU. Andre Davis isn't the only one you've got to worry about in that phase of football.
Has (Houston offensive line coach) Alex Gibbs completely changed the blocking scheme like Denver's?
I think they were moving in that direction prior to Alex joining them. They just got the men that they modeled the system after working within the system now. It had remnants of Alex Gibbs before he got there.
With two new starters on the offensive line, is cohesion a concern there? And can you build that any other way than playing together?
Really, the only way you do it is playing together. Those are problems everybody has, any time you have turnover. In today's NFL, you have turnover. They have some new guys. Everyone's working on cohesion. That's what makes September football so exciting. It will be exciting this weekend and hopefully it will be exciting in a positive way for us.
Coach, do you expect Larry Foote to be ready to go Sunday?
I do. I watched him move around yesterday in practice. I thought he did well. We gave him the necessary rest to get that thing healthy last week and so far so good. The way he feels this morning will be an indication in the direction he is moving after having worked, getting up in the morning and seeing where it is. But we feel comfortable that he'll be able to participate and participate a lot.
Will you work Lawrence (Timmons) in at all in the 3-4?
We will. The thing is with those guys, we're blessed with great depth at the linebacker position. Those guys are going to play for us, James Farrior, Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons. I could care less who runs out of the tunnel. That's irrelevant. What is relevant is that those three play football for us because they're playmakers. You'll see that on Sunday.
Is there one area of the team that you feel has made significant progress since the opening of camp and is there one specific area where you say, ‘Boy, I wish we had another week to work on this?'
You can ask me that on Sunday. All that's done to this point is in preparation for Sunday. That's the reality of it. We can trick ourselves into feeling good about an area or worry ourselves to death about another area. But the reality is that when we go out and play on Sunday, that will be the indication of where are. That's the excitement that comes with playing the first game. Preseason aside, and don't get me wrong, that's very important, as is training camp, but you don't know the cards that you hold until you go out there and play thing upcoming Sunday. That not only applies to us, but to everybody who's playing this weekend.
Is Troy (Polamalu) ready?
We're just going to toss him in. That's the nature of this thing. Training camp is important; preseason is important. He missed a bunch of that due to injury. But we play on Sunday and he's going to be a part of it. Hopefully he gets his legs under him quickly.
Is Mario Williams one of those guys you have to game plan for?
He is. Because of the reasons I mentioned earlier and this guy is extremely powerful and athletic. He runs his line stunts very efficiently. This morning, I counted four steps he took to get to the quarterback on a TE (tight end) stunt. That's not a lot of time. Somebody's got to block this guy. That's what makes him who he is. That's why they drafted him first overall.
Does he stay on the right side? Do they flip-flop him at all?
No, they're going to move him around if what they've done in the past is any indication, I should say. They've moved him around in the past and I would anticipate they move him around again.
Did you accomplish anything in training camp where you think you're better at protecting the quarterback this year?
I do. I've commented to you guys several times. I've been pleased with the pocket in training camp and preseason, particularly in the area of play-action passing. That's been good. But again, we'll have a better sense of where it is on Sunday.
(Ellis checking in with a long-winded question about the other guys on the defensive line, particularly Amobi Okoye)?
Okoye is a speed guy. He's very active. He's very athletic. He's an athletic guy who happens to be powerful. He plays over guards, he's more of a three-technique. Travis Johnson, the young first-rounder from Florida State, is primarily over the center. Both are talented guys. Johnson's more of a power player, Okoye is more of an athlete. Don't get me wrong, they function very well together as a group.
Can we expect to see a regular dose of Rashard Mendenhall and have his fumbles changed what you had originally planned to do with him going into the season?
I think that's to be determined. We're looking at his preparation this week, his attention to detail in terms of how he executes his assignments, and his level of ball security. That process will be ongoing. That's what it's about. We'll see as we get closer to game time.
How will you handle your return game and will he be part of that?
Have you settled on a short-yardage guy?
No we haven't. We'll see how that unfolds. A lot of that has to do with that young man's ball security and attention to detail.
Should we expect to see Ben (Roethlisberger) lining up as a wideout?
Don't hold you breath. That's a nice little package we're working on, developing some things out of that. It's fun and the guys enjoy it. But Ben is a quarterback.
Did you need to see anything from Willie Parker to this point?
Yes, you always need to see stuff from everybody. I needed to see that he is Willie Parker. I think he's shown that, not only in preseason games, but in practices. He's shown that. He appears to be extremely healthy. I know he's in great spirits and I know he's looking forward to leading this football team in the ways that he always does.
Is Mewelde the third-down back?
Will Parker get any shots there too?
Depending on the distance, but Mewelde Moore is the primary third-down back at this point.
That hog package …
Where did you get that name from?
I don't know, somebody told me.
I don't need to confirm or deny that is the name.
That package, was it put in for (Dennis) Dixon or might he be a part of it?
Maybe is the answer to both of those, if that's the name of that package.
Who's your fourth receiver?
Right now we have two guys vying for the fourth receiver spot in terms of this week's game, that's Dallas Baker and Limas Sweed. Both have had their moments positively and negatively. We're going to let those guys continue to compete for the right to join those other three known men in the rotation this week.
Will you dress all seven defensive linemen?
We haven't made that decision yet, but it's highly unlikely that we'll dress all seven.
Will Max (Starks) be the third tight end?
Potentially, yes. Max is capable and has done it in the past. We've got a level of comfort there, but we'll work some other options to keep our options open.
What makes Heinz Field such a tough place for teams to come in to?
There's no place like home. Steelers nation is always out and ready for some action. We feed off of that, we do. We feel like we can face a lot of challenges with the support of our fans. It's what makes it mystical. Hopefully we contribute to that with the quality of our play, not only on Sunday, but throughout the rest of the year.
Was it maybe more that what you expected your first year?
It is. You have a vision of what it's about, but to be a part of it is different. It's different from your perception from the outside in. I enjoy it. I love it. I've said it in these settings before – the hair on the back of your neck stands up when you cross that bridge to the North Side and you start getting close to that stadium. It's exciting. I can't wait for that feeling on Sunday.
Is Houston a team on the rise even though they're in a difficult division?
I'm sure they believe that and I believe it based on what I've seen on tape. They are in a tough division. They do have some top-quality players who are emerging, and that's what makes them dangerous. They've got a quarterback that doesn't make mistakes. They've got a veteran ball toter. They've got some young defensive linemen that are very disruptive individually and collectively. They're a force to be reckoned with, to say the least.
Will Ike Taylor shadow Johnson.
I like that idea, it could happen. Will it? That's to be determined. I know Ike doesn't back down from those challenges. I know he's capable and willing to step up and meet them. That's always an option for us.
How do they use Slaton?
That's something to be determined. I think they used him in the preseason may not be indicative of how they'll use him in the regular season. He has third-down back capability and potential. He's got very nice hands. He's got kickoff and punt return capabilities. It will be interesting to see how that shakes out. I would imagine that it's developing, as is ours with our young running back.
How are you guys health-wise?
We appear to be in great condition. I think the only question mark at this point is Larry Foote and he appears to be not a question mark. We're getting healthy at the appropriate time.