Pittsburgh head coach Bill Cowher has been frustrated by his defense's performance in two preseason games, particularly on third downs. The Vikings scored 10 points in three series against the Steelers' first defense.
"I feel like we gave up a lot of plays on the field," LB Joey Porter said. "And for our standards, that was not good for us."
NOT KING OF THE HILL
San Francisco 49ers reserve quarterback Shaun Hill spent four seasons with the Vikings as a backup. Although he suited up for every game of his career, his NFL resume consists of one game and two kneel-downs. He has yet to attempt an NFL pass. He is currently competing against Jesse Palmer for the 49ers' No. 3 job. Hill's only regret is that he has yet to attempt a pass in a regular-season game.
"It's a little disappointing," Hill said. "A lot of third-stringers around the league played throughout those four years, but I never got a chance. Obviously, you don't want people to get hurt, but it would've been nice to get some game exposure at some point in four years. But I had a lot of reps in preseason and felt like I improved."
The Washington Redskins are hopeful that Portis will return from his partially dislocated left shoulder on time for the September 11 season opener against the Minnesota Vikings, but if not the team acquired T.J. Duckett from the Atlanta Falcons as a bruising backup.
Portis was examined at length on August 14 in Birmingham, Alabama by famed surgeon James Andrews who concurred with the diagnosis made by the Redskins' medical team after Portis was hurt in the first quarter of the previous night's 19-3 preseason-opening loss at Cincinnati.
"The feeling is that it's something that's going to be sore," Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said. "As soon as we get the soreness out of there, they feel like Clinton can start rehabbing. You would think that it's a lot better than getting something separated. We would hope he would be ready for the opener."
Portis said that he was so sore that he couldn't sleep the night he was hurt and added that top veterans should skip preseason.
"I don't know why myself or any other player of my caliber should be playing in the preseason," Portis said. "For the last four years, I've done enough to show the world I'm going to be ready for the season."
However, Gibbs affirmed the importance of preseason even after seeing Portis go down and after losing offensive tackle Jon Jansen for the year in the 2004 preseason opener.
"The preseason games are the first time that you can have real full-go contact," said Gibbs, who opened his camp on July 31, later than any other coach. "You'd love to get (your starters) 8, 10, 12 plays. You'd like to get them started with some contact and get in some kind of a groove.
"If you back off that, you hurt the preparation for your team. It's a balancing act: how much you play guys, how much you run the risk of getting somebody hurt."
Portis that said several teammates questioned him for risking injury by racing to make a tackle after an interception in preseason.
"But) if I let him go, I'm sitting in the meeting tomorrow getting yelled at (by coaches)," Portis said.
But Portis, Denver's second-rounder draft choice in 2002, has never had to fight to make a roster.
"I don't think the preseason is too long," said receiver Brandon Lloyd, a fourth-rounder with the 49ers in 2003. "The people who think it's too long are guys who have never had to fight for a roster spot. I needed four games to prove I could play in this league. Even though I'm established and have a spot, I'm still about players fighting hard to make the team. I want to see how the undrafted guy who comes out of nowhere uses these four games to make a roster and becomes an impact player."
COLD ON KOREN
From an analysis on the Koren Robinson situation out of Seattle comes this: "The Seahawks, meanwhile, proved much better off without Robinson. They signed Joe Jurevicius last season; the journeyman caught 10 touchdown passes in his lone season with Seattle. Once Jurevicius left in free agency, Seattle signed Nate Burleson away from the Vikings. Burleson has enjoyed a solid, if unspectacular camp with the Seahawks. The team has penciled him in as the starting split end, the position once set aside for Robinson."
HANDLE ON BASKETT
It's becoming more and more apparent that wide receiver Todd Pinkston probably won't be ready to play by the start of the season. Which leaves the Eagles with a significant question mark as to who will be their other starter opposite Reggie Brown.
Pinkston missed all of last season with a torn Achilles tendon. Coach Andy Reid had hoped he could return and be the deep threat he was two years ago when he averaged an NFL-best 18.8 yards per catch. But Pinkston has been able to practice just once since training camp opened and hasn't played in any of the Eagles' three preseason games because of Achilles tendonitis in both of his feet.
Making matters worse, Jabar Gaffney, the former Houston Texans' wideout, who was signed in the offseason to compete for a starting job with Pinkston, has struggled much of training camp and the preseason.
Gaffney turned in his first impressive performance Thursday night against Baltimore, catching a team-high four passes for 37 yards. But before that, he had tumbled down the depth chart below undrafted free agent Hank Baskett and rookie fourth-rounder Jason Avant.
"I'm finally starting to feel more comfortable and I'm just trying to take advantage of the opportunities I get in a game," said Gaffney, who caught 55 balls for the Texans last year. "To come out and get a couple of catches, it feels good."
Right now, Baskett, who was signed after the draft by the Minnesota Vikings and later traded to the Eagles for unproductive third-year man Billy McMullen, appears to be the No. 2 starter. He's had a terrific training camp and played well in the Eagles' first two preseason games before getting shut out against Baltimore.
But he's an undrafted rookie. At 6-4, he's got nice size and impressive leaping ability (he was a conference high jump champion at New Mexico), but not much separation speed, which is why he went through the April draft unclaimed.
Asked about the prospect of Baskett being his No. 2 wideout, Reid said: "We've got quite a lot of time before we open. But if that happens, it happens. That's the way Hank's been playing. Now, does he need to continue to improve? Absolutely. These next three weeks, he needs to continue to improve. But he's held his own out there and done a nice job."
The Eagles were contenders in the trade talks to acquire former Broncos receiver Ashley Lelie, who went to Atlanta on Tuesday night.
Former Vikings wide receiver Randy Moss caught one pass for 16 yards against Minnesota in the preseason opener, then created a mini-controversy that probably didn't deserve the attention it got when he complained about being taken out in the middle of a series.
Moss never raised his voice, but the comments were construed in some outlets as Moss having "ripped" the coach.
Shell didn't seem to mind.
"Randy is no different than any other ballplayer," Shell said. "Fred Biletnikoff used to be frustrated. Young Cliff Branch used to be frustrated. All those guys were frustrated. They all wanted the ball and I understand that. That's good. That means he's competitive and he wants to do well."
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