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Old 08-15-2009, 11:18 AM   #1
A Son of Martha

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Default Even With New Faces, Steelers Roll On

(Some good quotes in the article. - mesa)

Even With New Faces, Steelers Roll On
Posted Aug 14, 2009 1:01AM By Terence Moore (RSS feed)

PITTSBURGH -- As expected, the roars across Heinz Field on Thursday night were black, gold and loud. It didn't matter that this was one of those glorified NFL scrimmages. It didn't matter that this was the first of such meaningless games this summer for both teams, which means their strategy was typically absent, and their play was absolutely raw.

It also didn't matter that popular country singer Keith Urban was doing his thing in a concert just a punt away, or that former President Bill Clinton was speaking to a bunch of bloggers next door at a convention.

Here's what mattered: The Pittsburgh Steelers. That's because the Steelers matter as much as breathing to those who often scream themselves into a Bill Cowher face where the Ohio meets the Allegheny and the Monongahela rivers.

Plus, this was the first time the capital of Steeler Nation could hug its heroes since "Sixburgh" became official last February in Tampa. And the visiting team was the Arizona Cardinals, which featured many of the same players who were victimized down the thrilling stretch of Super Bowl XLIII by most of these Steelers.

But that's the past. That's part of a glorious past for the Steelers.

Among the primary reasons why the Steelers have a record six NFL world championships and counting is that they also have, and have had, a glorious present and future on the roster. None of that has much to do with how the Steelers survived Arizona in this one. For the record, they replaced their regulars after a couple of series and conquered Arizona's subs for a 20-10 victory.

The Steelers lost just two starters from last season's team, and one of the new starters is Lawrence Timmons, more athletic and six years younger than Larry Foote, his predecessor at linebacker. The offensive line has to be better after allowing a ridiculous 46 sacks of star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger last season. The running game improves with a healthy Rashard Mendenhall giving breaks to an aging Willie Parker.

Then there is this: The Steelers are just the Steelers. With enlightened ownership in the Rooneys and with the new Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher in Mike Tomlin, they get it as much as any team in the league.

"When you come (into this organization), you see that we build our teams through the draft," said nose tackle Casey Hampton, among the 15 Pittsburgh starters who are home-grown. Courtesy of his talent and his teammates, he has watched four of his nine seasons with the Steelers end in the Pro Bowl. Added Hampton, "You see a lot of big-name guys (with the Steelers) let go every year. And you say you can't believe they let this guy go or that guy go, but then you always have a guy who has been in the system four or five years, and he just picks up right where the other guy left off.

"That's the difference between us and other teams and why our chemistry is so good. We don't mix and match a lot of guys and just bring them in, just because they can play. We kind of build our teams from within, and I think that's why we're so close."

There was LaMarr Woodley, for instance, who ended last season with an NFL-record two sacks in four straight playoff games. He added another one Thursday night. Even so, he wasn't exactly a catalyst in this game for the rest of those who comprised what was the league's No. 1 ranked defense last season.

"First of all, we were out there on the field too long," said Woodley, in his third year with the Steelers, referring to the two series that the Steelers' first defensive unit played when Cardinals starting quarterback Kurt Warner kept nailing open receivers. "We got them down to third down a few times, and we let them get first downs. So there are a few things we have to tweak.

"Every year, the defense changes. You've got new guys coming in. This year, we've got Lawrence Timmons taking Larry Foote's spot, and we got William Gay taking Bryant McFadden's spot. Even though they played a lot last year, guys have to get used to communicating with each other.

"It's getting better."

Which means it's not there yet. Neither is the offense, with the Steelers coaching staff calling vanilla plays that contributed to Mendenhall and the rest of his rushing mates managing less than three yards per carry. Elsewhere, while second-year player Limas Sweed was the receiving star of the night with two long catches, Roethlisberger was only functional (completing four of six passes for 33 yards).

Said Tomlin, entering his third year as Steelers head coach, "We're far from perfection. That's why we go through this process. Saw some things that we don't like. Twelve men on the field. Delays of game. Signs of August football."

Yeah, but the Steeler Nation only cares about February football. So Tomlin, Woodley and the rest have time to get it right.

Terence Moore is a national columnist and commentator for FanHouse. He is a frequent panelist on "Rome Is Burning," an ESPN show hosted by Jim Rome, that is seen Monday through Friday at 4:30 PM ET. Moore spent more than three decades working for major newspapers, including 26 years as an award-winning sports columnist for the San Francisco Examiner and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He resides in Atlanta.
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