Notebook: Chidi Jr. to the rescue?

The Steelers should be able to stop the Texans' running and passing attacks, but kickoff returns are another matter.

PITTSBURGH – In the last game that counted, Andre Davis of the Houston Texans returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, giving him three to end the season.

He was second in the NFL with a 30.3 average, and this preseason Davis averaged 27.6 per return. The former Cleveland Brown gives the Texans their best chance for a quick strike, so the Steelers are hoping their fortified coverage teams can contain him.

The Steelers added Keyaron Fox this offseason and will have two other linebackers, James Harrison and Lawrence Timmons, joining him up the middle. On the edge is a player the Steelers hope is their next Chidi Iwuoma in Anthony Madison.

"I learned a lot from Chidi," said Madison, the third-year cornerback from Alabama. "I picked his brain every day because I knew he was one of the best in the league, if not the best, at what he was doing."

Iwuoma, of course, was the Steelers' main gunner during their Super Bowl run in 2005. In 2006 he took young Madison under his wing, and Madison has turned into a quality gunner. He was the main reason the Steelers allowed punt returners an average of only 1.7 yards per return this preseason.

"The punters and the coaching also helped," Madison said. "I think we've improved a lot overall. As for me personally, after you get experience you learn a few tricks of the trade when it comes to getting open. You didn't know those things as a rookie, so I think it's been a combination of all three of those things."

HOLD ON, MITCH

Steelers kicker Jeff Reed went from Dan Sepulveda holding his placements, to Paul Ernster, to 36-year-old Mitch Berger, who finally made the team as the punter and of course holder.

"It's very important," Reed said. "I think it's more important than people realize. Being a holder is not easy. People think you just catch it and put it down. No. You have to have the right lean, the right lean for the weather, for the distance. Mitch has been doing it forever, so I'm totally confident in him. It's just tough getting used to someone new. I'm not real worried about it."

CLARK MAKES IT

Ryan Clark was asked the other day how his parents made out with the latest hurricane in New Orleans.

"They're OK," Clark said. "Their house burned down last month, so the hurricane wasn't a problem."

Come again?

"At least they didn't have to batten down the hatches," he said with a forced smile.

It takes a lot to rattle Clark, and apparently his family. Clark, of course, had his spleen and gall bladder removed after the high altitude in Denver affected his sickle cell trait last season. But he's back and ready for today's opener. Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin was asked if he's surprised by Clark's comeback.

"Really, no," Tomlin said. "If you know Ryan, this is a guy that's battled adversity his entire professional career, dating back to draft day when he wasn't selected. This guy's got a great spirit, a great work ethic, great football character, and I'd have been surprised had he not been back to form, truth be known.

"Initially, I didn't know if he was capable of being healthy. Once I found out he was capable of being healthy, I figured the football element would be taken care of. Going back to almost a year ago, you were more concerned about his health than his ability to play football."

JUST TAKE THE BALL

The NFL adopted the college rule in which the winner of the pre-game coin toss can defer the decision until the second half. Here's how Tomlin sized up that call:

"In a hostile environment with a good defense, that might lend itself to putting the defense on the field, and if you have a weather environment, that makes field position a consideration. All of that, of course, being contingent on how you feel about your defense, and of course we feel good about ours. But this is the National Football League. You take the football, all things being considered."


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