The Steelers' first-team defense has looked solid in the first two preseason games, but the offense is another story. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has yet to produce a touchdown, is 8 of 15 for 64 yards with an interception. Also, Jerome Bettis, who is starting in place of Duce Staley, has 18 yards on five carries. Is it time to panic? Not yet, but coach Bill Cowher expects more out of his top offensive unit Friday night against the Washington Redskins.
"They haven't even put the ball in the end zone yet," Cowher said Tuesday. "I think we certainly have a ways to go to be where we want to be by opening day. This will be a grind. (Washington) is good on defense. They're very disruptive; they're a blitzing team."
In addition to watching the first-team offense closely, there is also the issue of deciding which players will be sent packing four days after the game. Rosters must be trimmed to 65 by Tuesday afternoon.
"This is tough," Cowher said. "To be honest with you, it's probably not going to be as tough as the last cut (Sept. 4). But these games are all important with each one of these players. Even practice, we have some pretty intense battles going on right now. Every practice and every game is going to have some degree of influence on the final decision."
Cowher was asked if he planned to keep just two quarterbacks on the final roster, as he did last year. "You have to entertain all those things," he said. "Right now, there's a lot of different combinations that come up, and I don't know if I'm leaning one way or the other. Maybe the circumstances and what takes place the next two weeks will have an affect."
Linebacker Joey Porter and running back Duce Staley walked onto the practice field midway through yesterday's workout at St. Vincent College. Both appeared to move well, though they're still in the process of rehabbing knee injuries that occurred the first week of camp. Both had arthroscopic surgery - Staley for a torn lateral meniscus and Porter for loose cartilage. Porter could be ready for the opener against Tennessee on Sept. 11, but Staley might need a little more time.
"We don't have to rush him back," Bill Cowher said of Staley, whose understudies are Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker . "It's very important that we don't do that. We need him this season. But at the same time, while we have these other guys that are still there and still healthy, we have the luxury to make sure he is 100 percent before we bring him back. I think the running back position is a very deep one, a very competitive one. That's nice, considering Duce isn't healthy right now."
Porter said he is "on schedule" to return for the opener.
"I'm doing a little running, nothing serious," he said. "I started running in the swimming pool, but next week, I look forward to getting some real running in and try to get some good pressure on (the knee) and see what happens."
The Pro Bowl linebacker added that the swelling in the knee is nearly gone. He also isn't worried about being out of football shape.
"It's not like I'm doing anything too much to get out of shape. And the way the defense is playing right now, I don't see us being on the field that long, anyway."
Five players were ruled out of the preseason game with the Redskins. Porter, Staley, DBs Vontez Duff (shoulder) and Chidi Iwuoma (shoulder) and DE Travis Kirschke (back). Cowher added that he'd like to get No. 2 QB Tommy Maddox into Friday's game after the latter
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