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Hard to imagine Maddox being a Super Bowl QB

Maddox has an impressive resume for an insurance salesman. But it's sort of bland for a quarterback

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Steelers training camp is about to open. That warmth you feel is the blood rushing back to your extremities. Isn't it good to be alive again?

The Steelers will be in the thick of things again this season. Winning the AFC North is a lock. Baltimore and Cincinnati are a little better than last year, but not good enough. The Cleveland not-really-the-Browns lost virtually all their linebackers, their offensive line is putrid and, while the not-really-the-Browns players may be dumb, they're not so stupid that they don't hate Butch Davis.

The Steelers again will win the AFC North. Yea. And anything can happen once you're in the playoffs, right?


Close your eyes. Imagine the Steelers in the Super Bowl. With Tommy Maddox at quarterback. Kind of difficult, isn't it? Close your eyes again. Imagine the Steelers in the Super Bowl. With virtually the same secondary that got shredded all last season. Very difficult, isn't it?

Maddox is nothing beyond adequate. He was XFL MVP. Last week, he won an ESPY. What's next, the Daily Number? Wait, sorry ... that's an illogical progression. Winning the Daily Number is actually worth something. Maddox is better than Kordell Stewart, but I hate to damn him with very faint praise.

Maddox has an impressive resume for an insurance salesman. But it's sort of bland for a quarterback.

He is the proverbial gritty gamer, but he's a.) brittle and b.) mostly a stationary target. He'll be playing behind a novice at left tackle and a career substitute at right tackle. Maddox has great receivers to work with, but he may have to survive the running of the bulls every time he drops back.

Let's say he does. (Hee, hee.) Can you honestly imagine the Steelers in the Super Bowl with Maddox at quarterback?

If you're a true Steelers fan, your response should be: Ah ha! Trent Dilfer. (If you want to aggravate me, your response should be: Ah ha! Neil O'Donnell. Shut up now, and I'll forget we ever had this conversation.) Dilfer, of course, is a very mediocre quarterback who, er, "led" Baltimore (a k a the real Browns) to the world championship of professional football in January 2001.

My response: Ah ha! Who did the Balti-morons have in the secondary when Dilfer did his yearlong Johnny U-on-Percocet impersonation? Nobody named Scott, Washington and Alexander, I can tell you that. Do the names McAlister, Woodson and Starks ring a bell? The Ravens did get a ring with a substandard quarterback. They also had one of the NFL's best defensive units ever.

The Steelers don't. But they drafted safety Troy Polamalu in the first round and hoped you would see that as fixing the secondary. You did. It's the football equivalent of slapping a butterfly stitch on a gaping head wound, but you bought it.

Defensive coordinator Tim Lewis says the Steelers will improve defensively thanks to schematic changes. Can't wait. Can't see it happening, either.

If the Steelers rush more guys, they have to play more single coverage. If they rush fewer guys (as if that were possible), any quarterback can complete most passes given a ton of time.

So, the Steelers have one glaring shortcoming, namely the defensive backfield. Quarterback is shaky. Almost every team has weaknesses. The salary cap basically dictates that. But the NFL is all about passing these days. The Steelers, in that vein, have problems on both sides of the ball. Uh-oh.

It won't cost them during the regular season (although a shocking home loss against Baltimore to open hostilities certainly isn't out of the question). Forget the tough schedule. Forget the three trips out West. It's impossible for the Steelers not to win the AFC North. Raise another banner. Drink another beer. Taunt another not-really-the-Browns fan.

But, if you can imagine the Steelers in the Super Bowl, you have a very vivid imagination.

While we're indulging our imaginations, however, the Steelers should take a long look at rookie Ike Taylor during camp. I goofed on Shoeless Ike's intelligence in a previous column, but it was all good-natured ribbing. So maybe Taylor was academically ineligible for most of his college career. Doesn't make him a bad person.

And it certainly doesn't make him a bad cornerback. Taylor (6 feet, 202 pounds) is an extremely gifted natural athlete who runs a 4.3 40.

Taylor doesn't have to worry about grades messing up his NFL career. All he has to do is cover somebody mano a mano, which takes only a modicum of smarts. I once called Shoeless Ike the worst draft pick in the Steelers' history. But he still might be the best cornerback they have.

As for the jobs that are supposedly up for grabs, they really aren't. Jerome Bettis will start at tailback, Jay Riemersma will start at tight end, Oliver Ross will start at right tackle, Mike Logan will start at strong safety and Brent Alexander will start at free safety. It will be a camp full of complacency, just like last year. In other words, take Baltimore and the points on opening day.

Mark Madden hosts a sports talk show from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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