Steelers do have issues on eve of training campPosted: Tuesday July 23, 2002 2:25 PM
Updated: Thursday July 25, 2002 3:10 AM
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- After going 13-3 during last season and reaching the AFC title game, the Pittsburgh Steelers won't have many lineup vacancies or positions to fill when they open training camp Wednesday.
But that doesn't mean this will be an uneventful, stick-to-the-routine month in Latrobe. No, head coach Bill Cowher is certain to make sure there's no air of complacency in a team regarded as the AFC favorite.
The Steelers signed only two free agents likely to make their lineup, former Jets linebacker James Farrior and former Chiefs kicker Todd Peterson. The draft was used mostly to improve special teams and add complementary players who will challenge for starting jobs in the future.
Still, there are questions:
Twice in the last six seasons, a Bettis groin injury sidetracked their running game in the playoffs. Bettis said last month that the problem that sidelined him for all but a few plays of the Steelers' final seven games was more serious than he revealed at the time.
Bettis, 30, rarely gets much playing time in exhibition games, but those few carries he does get will be closely watched.
"He understands that everything is going to be scrutinized, every game, every throw," Cowher said. "He has become very tough-minded as a result of what he's gone through. He just didn't come off his year in the Pro Bowl and say 'OK, I'm fine now.' He came here and never missed a workout. He became a leader. He's the leader of this football team."
From the first day of camp last July to their loss to New England in late January, the Steelers' theme was the same: People don't respect us, people don't think we can win. They can't recite that mantra this season, when the question doesn't seem to be whether they will make the playoffs, but how far they will go.
Since Cowher took over in 1992, only one first-round draft pick has washed out, offensive lineman Jamain Stephens. But, three years after being a first rounder, Edwards goes to camp fighting for the fifth and last receiver's spot on the roster.
Burress had a breakthrough season, seemingly establishing himself as the big-play receiver the Steelers have sought for years. But he also troubled them with off-the-field brushes with the law, the kind of distractions that a championship-seeking team doesn't need.
Batch, a former starter in Detroit who is playing in Pittsburgh this season for a relative pittance, has far more recent playing experience than Maddox, and thus might have the edge as camp begins.