Me: What about the players?
AM: They're fine. They've been practicing with great tempo the last couple of weeks and they increased that this week. You saw them out there. They're jumping through hoops. It's a great environment considering what it could be.
Me: OK, what about the players? Do you sense any division, whether it be due to the quarterback controversy or the offense-defense thing?
AM: As far as the quarterback controversy, I doubt the players are split. First of all, both quarterbacks genuinely like each other, and the players genuinely like each quarterback. Each quarterback brings a skill that helps the team, so the players, I think, don't have any problem with either. Sure, they want to win but no one can accuse the coach of playing a favorite or someone who hurts their chances of winning. As for the offensive-defensive thing, I doubt there's anything to that, but you'd better ask Lee Flowers.
Me: I did. And he got all steamed up. He felt I was just another guy looking for dirt after a tough loss. He feels the media is trying to tear the team apart, but he doesn't realize that we have readers who want explanations, readers who don't work in this locker room. When we ask Lee these things, we're giving him a chance to explain, you know, put it in his own words. Sometimes these guys don't appreciate the opportunity they have with the media. Make it work for you.
AM: Did you explain all of that to him like you are to me? It makes sense.
Me: Well, you hate to make excuses and that just sounds like a big, ol' fat excuse. Anyway, I'm interested in the offensive line. I wanted to clear something up. You told me last week that Mathias Nkwenti would be the left tackle next year, but I'm hearing from a source that it'll be Oliver Ross.
AM: Nkwenti is next up for the guys looking on from a developmental aspect. I guess Russ is looking at it from a coaching standpoint. It'll be a competition. I'm sure he'd rather have Mathias win it. That way Oliver can be the valuable swing guy off the bench. Besides, he's coaching right now and he needs Oliver this week.
Me: Speaking of left tackle, I've talked to people who think Wayne Gandy tanked it last week, that he just quit. He got beat by a guy named Posey and then grabbed his calf. Then he wasn't taken to the orthopedic board, whatever that means, and then he finished the game standing by the heater, bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet.
AM: I'm not going to sit here and say Gandy quit. He's a proud player. You can go on with your half-baked theories. I've got work to do.
Me: No, no. I was just wondering. Russ doesn't believe it and he likes Gandy as a player. Other newspaper guys think that it's just team propaganda because Gandy will be up for free agency.
AM: Team propaganda? Whatever.
Me: OK. But what about the rest of the line? Tell me about the center and right guard. I'm hearing that Chukky Okobi struggled last game, and I've got to wonder whether Keydrick Vincent is better than Kendall Simmons.
AM: The line looked confused at times, but I didn't think Chukky was that bad. Then again, I didn't know his blocking assignments so it's difficult for me to say. But Chukky has gotten better. There's no doubt about that. Everyone's excited to see Jeff (Hartings) play Sunday. He feels good for the first time in a long time. As for Keydrick, he's a big guy who does a nice job on big, young tackles like Marcus Stroud. But players like Seth Payne and Gary Walker, man that's a whole different league. If they sense any fundamental weakness, they'll kill you. I thought, in that regard, Kendall did OK. He's getting great experience. He'll be fine. And Keydrick's a nice find. If he can give them quality depth for three, four, five years we'll be happy, and that's what it looks like he'll give them.
Me: The biggest problem I had last week was with Plaxico Burress. He looked like he was either stoned or hungover from the night before.
AM: Someone told me he looked like he was shaving points. I don't know. He looked bad, but it was only one game.
Me: Tell me about Carolina. My first question is how much will they miss Dan Morgan, the guy the Steelers wanted to draft a couple years ago?
AM: Morgan's OK, but let me just say that the Steelers got lucky when they had to settle for Kendrell Bell in the second round. The rest of the Carolina linebackers – Mark Fields, Brian Allen and Morgan's replacement, Will Witherspoon – are speed guys who have difficulty at the point. Hannibal Navies is very good, a good pass-rusher, but he's been injured lately. The kid who replaced Julius Peppers up front, Al Wallace, is undersized so you want to run at him. Brentson Buckner had a good game last week, but that was after taking four weeks off. He was fresh. He's the same old Buck, make a good play and take one off, but I'm sure he's excited about playing his old team. Kris Jenkins is a run stopper and a bull-rusher. He's big, strong and tough. Mike Rucker can rush the passer but will have trouble with a tackle as opposed to a tight end. In the secondary, Terry Cousin is pretty good. He's a press guy who can make plays. Reggie Howard, on the other side, is the same way but he has poor ball skills. Mike Minter, the strong safety, is very good against the run. Deon Grant is more of a center fielder who's not real aggressive against the run.
Me: Tell us about the offense and I'll let you go. By the way, I'm very impressed with your cooperation after last Sunday.
AM: Hey, it's all about being a pro. Offensively, Rodney Peete's playing well. He's taking what you give him and he's playing within himself. Their line isn't too good. Their left tackle, Todd Steussie, is their best but he's injured. Their center, Jeff Mitchell, is pretty good but not very tough. Their left guard, Jamar Nesbit, isn't very good, and their right guard, Kevin Donnalley, is the vet but he's hit the wall. He's done. Their right tackle, Melvin Tuten, is a back-up playing for Chris Terry, who they let go. At receiver, Muhsin Muhammad is very good. He's their go-to guy but he doesn't have any speed. The other guy, Steve Smith, has the speed but is smaller and lacks consistency. Dee Brown is a pretty good running back. He doesn't have any speed but he has good vision. Their fullback, Brad Hoover, is a more athletic (Dan) Kreider. And with that, it's lunch time my friend.
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