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Steelers Steelers Report: 10/6/00

Friday, October 06, 2000

By Gerry Dulac, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Coach Bill Cowher said he still hasn't determined whether Kent Graham is healthy enough to start Sunday against the New York Jets and might have to wait until game time to make a decision because of the nature of the injury.

Nonetheless, Graham practiced again yesterday with the first-team offense, though he split the snaps with Kordell Stewart.

"All I'm going to say right now is, he's not 100 percent," Cowher said of Graham, who sat out the 24-13 victory in Jacksonville when he ruptured the bursa sac in his right hip. "We are where we are today, so we'll see how it goes.

"What we'll have to do is weigh the risk factor as it relates to what it's going to involve with him playing Sunday."

Cowher said the other day he doesn't want to play Graham if there is a good chance the quarterback could further injure his hip and miss more playing time. Also, Cowher said he wants to make sure Graham is able to run with the ball so he's not a sitting duck in the pocket.

Cowher was asked if it makes a difference preparing for the Steelers if the Jets don't know which quarterback -- Graham or Stewart? -- will start.

"They're going to prepare for what we do," Cowher said. "It's probably a question of knowing who's in the game that's the biggest thing. That's something we talked about with Neil [O'Donnell] and Steve McNair a couple weeks ago. I don't know if it's that much. But if there's any degree of thought process, based on what they're going to prepare for and what they call, then knowing as late as possible [which quarterback will play] would be to our advantage.

"There certainly are different things we would do with Kordell that we don't ask Kent to do. I think it's more of an awareness they're going to have, based on who's in the game. How much it alters their preparation, it may not be very much at all."

Cowher said NT Kendrick Clancy, who has not played since sustaining a high ankle sprain in the first quarter of the season opener, is ready to play.

He could get his chance against the Jets because Jeremy Staat, who has been serving as the backup nose tackle, did not practice again yesterday because of a shoulder injury.

"We have to make a decision like with a lot of these guys who are healthy," Cowher said. "Their activity and how much they play is based on other people around them and how they can fit in."

In addition to Staat, the only other player who did not practice was rookie RT Marvel Smith, who will miss his second game in a row because of a sprained knee.

C Dermontti Dawson (hamstring) and RB Jerome Bettis (knee), who have been getting at least one extra day off a week to rest their injuries, returned to practice. So did Kevin Henry (shoulder), who sat out practice Wednesday.

As part of the preparation for the Jets, Cowher had RB Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala throw a halfback-option pass to simulate a play the Jets used a couple weeks ago with Curtis Martin.

But, unlike Martin, who completed the pass for a touchdown in the comeback victory against Tampa Bay, Fuamatu-Ma'afala's pass badly wobbled and came up woefully short.

"I told Jerome, it looks like all our backs throw the same way," Cowher said, a reference to Bettis' attempted pass in Cleveland that was intercepted.

The Steelers had seven sacks in their victory against Jacksonville, but that was not surprising, even for a team that had just two in the first three games. That's because Jaguars QB Mark Brunell had been sacked a league-high 17 times coming into the game.

The Jets, though, are a different story. Their offensive line has surrendered just three sacks in four games, even though four of their starters have played three years or less.

"The thing about Vinny [Testaverde], he's going to get rid of the ball," said CB Dewayne Washington. "If he sees guys around his feet, he'll get rid of it quicker. It'll be tougher to come by sacks."

The biggest weakness among the special teams is kick coverage, where the Steelers allow an AFC-worst 27.9 yards per return and yield the worst starting field position in the NFL (36.4). That is not an encouraging sign against the Jets, who have the league's top kick returner, Kevin Williams. He leads the NFL with a 35.4-yard average and had a 97-yard return for a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills.

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