View Full Version : Five Story Lines To Watch

07-28-2006, 12:41 PM
1.) Big Ben's towering presence
The interest in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger this summer would have been intense had he not had his near-death experience riding his motorcycle in June. Now, it promises to be Mick Jagger-ish. Big Ben turned into Pittsburgh's rock star when he became the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl; he rose above that level the day he survived his frightening bike accident.

He and Bill Cowher have said he's ready to go, healed from his broken jaw, nose and orbital bone. Nevertheless, Cowher will try to ease him into workouts, although Roethlisberger's history is not to ease into anything. He will want to go all out from the beginning. The plan has been to have him skip the first preseason game and play in the second, although those plans could change either way as he goes through camp. His doctors might believe it best to err on the side of caution, something Roethlisberger likely will fight.

The atmosphere around him could become surreal as fans and media descend on training camp with the attraction of a Super Bowl champ and its daredevil, young quarterback.

Will his accident and injuries make him gun-shy? There's nothing in Roethlisberger's resume over the past two years that would suggest it.

One residue from his injuries will appear if Roethlisberger has a poor training camp, as he did last year when he and the offense were ineffective in the preseason. Correct or not, it will be blamed on his motorcycle accident.

2.) Holmes faces the music
Had Santonio Holmes -- called "Santana" by Cowher four days ago -- been arrested twice, including once for domestic violence, before the NFL draft, he would not have been taken in the first round and the Steelers would not have drafted him at all.

Holmes has a trial date set in Columbus, Ohio, Aug. 15, although the legal maneuverings could alter that or make it disappear. Holmes will be a center of attention in this training camp because he's a first-round draft choice, and he'll compete to replace the departed Antwaan Randle El at split end. The scrutiny will increase because of his notoriety off the field.

His legal problems aside, Holmes enters camp without benefit of the Steelers spring practices and meetings except for the three-day minicamp he was permitted to attend because his Ohio State classes did not end until June.

Traditionally, rookie receivers do not fare well in the NFL.

Holmes has the kind of talent that prompted the Steelers to trade a third-round draft choice in order to move up seven spots and take him with the 25th pick.

The Steelers did not draft Holmes to sit, but Cedrick Wilson played well enough in his first season that he will open as their starting split end, barring a spectacular preseason by Holmes. The rookie will compete with third-round pick Willie Reid -- at his position and also as a punt returner -- along with veteran Quincy Morgan and second-year player Nate Washington, an undrafted rookie last season with talent who could be the next Willie Parker at his position.

3.) Say it ain't so, Bill
Will this be Bill Cowher's last season as Steelers coach? He has two left on his contract, but nothing in that document prevents him from retiring after this season. Talks are ongoing on a contract extension but even if one is reached, language could be inserted that would provide him with an out if he retires and then wants to return to coaching somewhere else in a few years. If an extension is not reached by the start of the regular season Sept. 7, talks will end for the year, Steelers president Art Rooney II said.

Cowher's actions, his statements to associates and his responses to questions about his future are what raised the issue after the Super Bowl.

Cowher, 49, told an associate not connected with the team last October that he was growing tired of the grind of coaching professional football and might soon retire. Then he and his wife, Kaye, bought a $2.5-million home in North Raleigh, N.C. His youngest daughter, Lindsay, reportedly enrolled in a high school there for her sophomore season.

Cowher has said several times since the Super Bowl that "I'm just taking it year-to-year" when asked if this could be his last season. Monday night, he told Mark Madden on ESPN Radio 1250 that he's taken this position for several years.

"If you go back and listen to me after we went 6-10 in year 12, I have taken a year-to-year approach and I think I'm not going to change that this year," Cowher said. "That doesn't mean I won't be coaching next year, but it doesn't mean that I won't sit down at the end of this year as I did the last two years and just reassess where I'm at."

However, in March 2004, nearly three months after that 6-10 season ended, Cowher told the Post-Gazette that he wanted to coach at least until his youngest daughter graduated from high school and probably beyond. Lindsay Cowher has three years of high school left.

"I'm not sure what I would do with myself," Cowher said two years ago. "It's something that I love to do ... I don't foresee taking a break anytime soon, to be honest with you."

4.) A Duce coupe tries to replace The Bus
Duce Staley arrived as a free agent from the Eagles in 2004 and lived up to his reputation as a good, tough running back but one with a history of injuries. He wrested the starting halfback job from Jerome Bettis and rushed for 707 yards in his first seven games, prompting popular cries of "Duuuuuuce" from the Heinz Field stands. Then injuries befell him.

He enters his third Steelers training camp having accepted $1 million less in what was supposed to be a $2.5 million salary and finds himself competing against Verron Haynes for the backup job at halfback and as a short-yardage runner, the jobs Bettis performed last season.

Staley did not dress for 11 regular season games and had 148 yards rushing on 38 carries. He did not dress in the three playoff games, then dressed for the Super Bowl but did not play.

However, he did help save two games for them when Parker and Bettis were hurt. He replaced an injured Parker in Green Bay and rushed for 76 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. He started the following game against Cleveland and rushed for 64 yards on 17 carries. The Steelers won both.

Cowher, when asked if Staley would step up to fill the old Bus role, said he will have to compete with Haynes, who has been their third-down back the past two seasons. Cowher emphasized that Haynes will have a real shot at that job.

5.)Deja two
The free agency era, ushered into the NFL in 1993 along with the salary cap, was supposed to spread talent so evenly around the league that dynasties like the Steelers' of the '70s and the 49ers of the '80s would no longer be possible.

Theoretically, it should be more difficult to defend a Super Bowl championship. Yet, three teams have won consecutive Super Bowls during this era. The Steelers would like to be the fourth, matching Dallas, Denver and New England.

"I think repeating would put you on a different level than a team that just wins once and they're done," said Art Rooney II.

It was Rooney who announced in March 2005 that it was time the Steelers won their first Super Bowl since January 1980, and they did it.

The Steelers would seem to be in good position to do so again. They lost three starters and have capable replacements for them. But injuries can play havoc with a team, as they did when the offensive line crumbled in 2003 and the Steelers went 6-10. Also, while schedules are often difficult to rate because of changes from season to season, the Steelers appear to have a brutal one. The closest thing to a breather on their schedule this year is a home game against New Orleans Nov. 12. This season, they open against Miami, Jacksonville and Cincinnati. Last year they opened with two patsies, Tennessee and Houston, before a home game against New England. They finished with a home game against Detroit.

"We are not looking for excuses to fail," Cowher said. "We are trying to find reasons and answers to why and how we need to succeed