View Full Version : Steelers Notebook: 12/16/06

12-16-2006, 12:55 AM
Steelers Notebook: Smith still playing strong, gets another start at free safety
Saturday, December 16, 2006

By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It might be that Ryan Clark is still not 100 percent recovered from a groin injury that caused him to miss the previous game. Or it could be that rookie Anthony Smith played so well in his first NFL start that he will get another against the Carolina Panthers.

Whatever the case, Smith is expected to start at free safety tomorrow against the Panthers, another step on his road to becoming a full-time starter in the Steelers' secondary. If he is not already.

"I had a good week and I think they want to see if I can carry it through the next week," Smith said. "I want to get in there."

Smith made a big impression in his first start, intercepting a pass and delivering several big hits in a 27-7 victory against the Cleveland Browns. He was filling in for Clark, whose groin was injured five days earlier against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Clark is listed as probable on the team's injury report and has practiced all week. But it appears he will be used as an extra back in the dime defense and Smith will start against the Panthers.

"I was pretty happy with my performance," Smith said of his play against the Browns. "[The coaches] said I had a good game. I don't know what they're going to do yet. Regardless of what they do, I just do what they ask me to do. It doesn't matter too much."

Smith said it has taken time to learn the free-safety position, which requires the player to call defensive signals, and also get comfortable as the sixth defensive back in the dime defense. But he said he is "real comfortable" now and needs to just get more playing time.

It was the same thing when safety Troy Polamalu was a rookie. He was used as an extra back in the nickel defense all season and did not become a starter until his second year. Polamalu has said the most difficult adjustment was learning the defense.

"I didn't think it started clicking for me probably till late in the season, about this time," Polamalu said. Then, referring to Smith, he said, "He seems comfortable with it. He plays the game very hard. He has a good feel for the game."

Wilson feeling better

Wide receiver Cedrick Wilson (ankle) practiced for the second day in a row and will play on a limited basis against the Panthers. Santonio Holmes, however, will start at split end for the second game in a row.

Wilson was upgraded to probable on the team's injury report, one day after he was upgraded from doubtful to questionable.

It is something of a rapid comeback for Wilson, who missed only one game with a high ankle sprain. Typically, such injuries result in more missed games.

"It just started feeling better," said Wilson, who is tied for third on the team with 32 catches.

"It's a matter of threshold of pain. And I'm able to take the pain."

And to all a good night

In addition to being a defensive innovator and strategist, Dick LeBeau is also a great story-teller.

But there is one story he tells every year to his players, and his unique recital from memory has become the stuff of Steelers team lore.

That's why he was requested to tell "Twas The Night Before Christmas" for all team and front-office members at the annual Christmas party the other night. Team chairman Dan Rooney asked LeBeau to recite the story for everyone, and he obliged, touching and spell-binding those in attendance with his rendition.

"That's the kind of request you don't turn down very readily," LeBeau said.

So there was LeBeau, telling a narrative that led up to the verse, then reciting the story -- without book -- with emphasis and sound effects. He spoke for nearly 10 minutes, enthralling everyone who listened.

It is something he began doing when his kids were small, and he still does it for his "other" kids.

"I thought I'd learn it for my family," LeBeau said. "My mom and my aunts, they made Christmas such an important thing. What a wonderful memory it has been for all of us, family-wise.

"I did it for my mom, really, and my aunts, that's who I did it for. It became a family thing, and, somehow, it got to be an extended family thing with the teams I've been with."

Even though they got an early preview the other night, LeBeau will tell the story again for the players during an upcoming team meeting.

"They'll get a doubleheader," LeBeau said.


12-16-2006, 12:56 AM
Steelers notebook

By The Tribune-Review
Saturday, December 16, 2006

Cedrick Wilson practiced Friday and said he wants to play Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. What will make the decision a tricky one for coach Bill Cowher, as Wilson acknowledged, is that if the veteran re-injures his ankle early in the game, the Steelers will be short-handed at wide receiver. Wilson had been listed as doubtful with a high ankle sprain after Wednesday's practice but has been upgraded to probable.

"It feels fine right now, but going through a game getting tackled and stuff like that, that's going to be the biggest task," Wilson said after practice yesterday.

Santonio Holmes started in Wilson's place Dec. 7 against the Browns and caught four passes for 81 yards.

"We've got a shot to be in the playoffs and I just want to be available for the team," Wilson said. "Everybody's played injured throughout the course of their career."

? Safeties Troy Polamalu (knee) and Mike Logan (hamstring) didn't practice yesterday and have been officially ruled out of playing tomorrow. Polamalu, who will miss his third consecutive game, said earlier this week that he risks tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee if he returns prematurely.

? All signs point to Chris Weinke starting in place of Jake Delhomme at quarterback for the Panthers. Delhomme (right thumb) missed his third consecutive practice yesterday and is listed as questionable for the 1 p.m. game. Starting cornerback Chris Gamble (thigh), running back Nick Goings (shoulder) and guard Mike Wahle (shoulder) returned to practice yesterday. The three are listed as questionable.

? Bryant McFadden, who has started four consecutive games at cornerback, will take an interesting approach to covering Steve Smith whenever the Panthers' wide receiver lines up on his side of the field.

"Whenever there's a pass situation," McFadden said, "always think the ball is coming to him."

McFadden knows, as many defensive backs have learned before him, that being ready for Smith and stopping the All-Pro are two different things. He is a premier deep threat but, McFadden said, if he is given too much of a cushion Smith can do plenty of damage by turning a short catch into a long gain.

"They like to give it to him quickly and let him be the athlete and do what he does," McFadden said. "You've got to play him very aggressively."

? Second-year guard Chris Kemoeatu has been inactive the last six games and doesn't figure to play against the Panthers. As it turns out he can't even provide an in-depth scouting report on his older brother, Maake, who starts at defensive tackle for the Panthers. The reason? As the younger Kemoeatu said, there isn't much to tell.

"He doesn't do anything but bull rush," Kemoeatu said of his brother, who is listed at 6-foot-5, 345-pounds. "He doesn't really have any counter moves, he's just real strong."


24 - Total points by which the Steelers have outscored their opponent in the first quarter of games this season.

42 - Total points by which the Panthers have outscored their opponent in the first quarter.

60 - Total points by which the Panthers have been outscored in the second half of games.