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Steelers Notebook: Conley never fulfilled promise

Monday, August 31, 1998

By Ed Bouchette, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Steven Conley was given a chance last year as the Steelers' prime pass rusher, and was given a chance this year to win Greg Lloyd's old job.

  Linebacker Steven Conley tackles Panthers running back T. Biakabutuka in the preseason game Saturday night, but the Steelers traded him Sunday. (Peter Diana, Post-Gazette)

Yesterday, he was given up for a middle-round draft choice to the Indianapolis Colts.

"I don't think they gave up on me," Conley insisted.

That, however, is exactly what the Steelers did with a linebacker they thought could make it big when they drafted him in the third round from Arkansas in 1996. But he was surpassed that season by a little-known seventh-round choice from Arkansas State, Carlos Emmons, who beat out Conley this summer for the prized job of starting right outside linebacker.

Coach Bill Cowher said the Steelers had such good depth at outside linebacker that it allowed them to get some value in return for Conley.

"Here's a guy who three weeks ago was starting and suddenly we're trading him," Cowher said.

Perhaps that said it all. Conley had his chances and never quite hung onto them. He began last season as the right rush end in their dime defense, but eventually lost that job to Mike Vrabel. Training camp ended with him losing his grip on the starting job and being relegated to a backup both at linebacker and at end in the passing defense.

The Steelers start Emmons and Jason Gildon outside, with Vrabel and Donta Jones as the backups.

"Steven was probably more shocked than anybody," Cowher said of the trade. "But at the same time he's got a chance to go somewhere. I was traded once, too. There's something about going somewhere where somebody wants you."

The Colts had no speed at linebacker, but picked up some with Conley and Andre Royal, who was traded to them yesterday by New Orleans. Conley went to Arkansas to compete in track and field and also played basketball and football.

"In this business, you have to move on and do what's best for you and I guess the Colts are what's best for me now," Conley said.

2nd straight cut

For the second straight year, Cowher cut linebacker Eric Ravotti and for the second time, Ravotti wasn't happy about it. He re-signed with the Steelers this year after spending last season running a construction business.

Ravotti, a Freeport native, was upset enough that he declined Cowher's request for him to come to Three Rivers Stadium to talk about it.

"He asked his secretary to tell me to come in and talk to him, but I didn't feel the need to do that. Anything that was going to be said could be said on the phone rather than me ride 20 minutes in there," Ravotti said. "Why not talk like men over the phone?

"Coach Cowher made the decision on where he wants to go with his football team. He's the final word in the Pittsburgh organization."

Ravotti said others told him that Cowher turned down a trade for him earlier this summer with the Detroit Lions, and he questioned why he would do that, then cut him.

"If some team wanted me, why not give me an opportunity to play somewhere else after all the work and time I've put in, as opposed to holding on to me to the very end and make it more difficult (to make another team)?

"Those are questions only one man can answer and that's not me."

Ravotti, a sixth-round draft choice of the Steelers from Penn State in 1994, played three seasons here. This summer, he played both inside and outside linebacker.

Cowher decided instead to keep John Fiala, an inside linebacker who spent last season on their practice squad.

Quick slants

With Troy Sadowski placed on injured reserve, the Steelers will need a new long snapper for punts. Cowher said it will be either Roger Duffy, who snaps on placekicks, or Jim Sweeney. ... Cowher said either Andre Coleman or Will Blackwell will return punts, and that he liked how Richard Huntley and Hines Ward returned kickoffs. ... After much speculation to the contrary, Jamain Stephens begins his third season as a backup offensive tackle. "You'd certainly like to see more, but we've seen some progress," Cowher said. "That's a position it's hard to get people to step in and play in (your) system." ... Sixteen new players are on the 53-man roster since the end of last season. ... Cowher said Mike Vrabel will continue to be the No. 1 right rush end, explaining that starting outside linebacker Carlos Emmons played that spot with the first team Saturday night merely so he could come out with the first team after the first quarter.

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