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Steelers Martin's long look does little to settle backup QB question

Friday, August 31, 2001

By Gerry Dulac, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

If Coach Bill Cowher knew before the final preseason game last night which quarterbacks he would keep on the roster, then the Steelers' 20-0 victory against the Buffalo Bills served only to reinforce why Kordell Stewart is the unquestioned starter heading into the regular season.

But, if Cowher was using the game to help him make a decision before the final roster cuts Sunday, then he finished the night with a lot of unanswered questions.

That's because Tee Martin, whose preseason performance ultimately will affect which quarterback, Kent Graham or Tommy Maddox, makes the 53-man roster, did little to distinguish himself as a possible No. 2 quarterback behind Stewart.

Unless, of course, you consider the 8-yard touchdown he threw to reserve fullback Ron Janes on fourth-and-2 with 3:54 remaining.

Cowher certainly gave Martin a long look, too, letting him play the rest of the game after replacing Stewart on the third offensive series.

"I'm not going to sit here and talk about who we're going to keep and who we're not going to keep," Cowher said. "We'll sit down the next couple days and make decisions accordingly."

Martin, who entered the game with 14:16 remaining in the second quarter, completed 7 of 17 passes for 45 yards and one touchdown. He was sacked four times, but he was playing behind a offensive line consisting of reserves.

Whether that will have any bearing on whether Cowher believes Martin can be the top backup won't be determined until 4 p.m. Sunday, which is when all NFL teams have to reduce their rosters to get ready for the regular season.

Cowher was determined to give Martin a lot of playing time, keeping Graham and Maddox on the bench for the final preseason game.

"I went out there and did the best I could," Martin said. "Things didn't go as well as I had hoped, but I didn't put the ball in the defensive guys' hands."

If Cowher believes Martin is ready to be Stewart's backup, that will, in all likelihood, mean the end for Graham, who is scheduled to make $1.4 million in 2001 and is too expensive to keep around as a third-team quarterback.

Graham played sparingly in the final three preseason games, getting just one series (and one snap) against the Detroit Lions and not playing at all against the Bills or Minnesota Vikings.

"I have no idea how to read it,' Graham said. "I don't know if I should read into it. I didn't get a whole lot of opportunities to play [in the preseason].

"If [Cowher] chooses not to have me here, I'll do something else. But I don't want not to be here."

Maddox, who is attempting an NFL comeback after playing in the Arena League and XFL, appeared to play his way on the team with his performance against the Lions. In particular, he impressed Cowher and offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey when he made a perfect read on a 33-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Demetrius Brown, picking out the open receiver against a cover-two defense.

But there remains a question about Maddox, 29, because he has not taken a snap in an NFL regular-season game since 1995. He left UCLA after his sophomore season and was the second quarterback taken in the 1992 draft, behind David Klingler (Cincinnati Bengals). He was considered the heir apparent to John Elway in Denver.

But his career never took off, and he eventually quit football to develop insurance agencies in the Dallas area. He resurfaced in the Arena League, and last year was named MVP in the first -- and last -- season of the XFL. That, though, did not bother the Steelers when they signed him as a free agent in June.

"We both had a feeling we wouldn't play," Maddox said, referring also to Graham. "You understand the whole situation. I've enjoyed being here. I'm very appreciative of the opportunity given me by the Steelers."

It's an opportunity that could result in a return to the NFL.

Martin did not play against the Lions because he missed three days of practice that week attending his great-grandmother's funeral.

"Is it all on the quarterback?" Cowher said, referring to Martin's performance. "We didn't move the ball as efficiently as I would like to. But it would be wrong of me to put it all on the quarterback."

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