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Steelers Steelers Report: 1/11/02

Friday, January 11, 2002

By Gerry Dulac, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

LOOKING AHEAD

The Steelers will play their first playoff game 12:30 p.m. Jan. 20 at Heinz Field against the lowest-remaining seed in the AFC. If the Jets defeat the Raiders tomorrow, the Steelers will play the Jets. Otherwise, the Steelers will play the winner of the Ravens-Dolphins game Sunday.

NOTEBOOK

Kordell Stewart won the Steelers Most Valuable Player award, was named to the AFC Pro Bowl team and finished fourth in voting for the National Football League MVP. Now, he has another award to add to his sterling season:

American Football Conference Offensive Player of the Month.

"Not too shabby for a running quarterback," Stewart said.

Stewart was honored after leading the Steelers to a 5-1 record in December and January, passing for 1,253 yards and eight touchdowns and rushing for 160 yards and one touchdown. During that stretch, Stewart completed 97 of 163 passes (59.5 percent) -- an average of 208.8 yards per game -- and had a passer rating of 84.7.

Stewart is the third Steelers player this season to win one of the league's monthly honors. RB Jerome Bettis was named AFC offensive player of the month in October and inside linebacker Kendrell Bell was twice named NFL defensive rookie of the month (October and November).

It's the first time Stewart has won the monthly award in his seven-year career. He was named AFC player of the week following the team's Dec. 16 victory in Baltimore.

"It caught me off guard," Stewart said. "I least expected that one, honestly. There are lot of good players in this conference. To be the guy recognized for the month of December, along with all the other players, it's pretty cool. To have won for the month, that's sweet. I like that a lot. That's nice."

DE Aaron Smith was given credit for a full sack against the Cleveland Browns after coaches reviewed the game film. Initially, Smith and DE Kimo von Oelhoffen were credited with half a sack after Browns QB Tim Couch was tackled in the second quarter of the Steelers' 28-7 victory on Sunday. But the coaches determined it was Smith who pushed OT Jeremy McKinney all the way back into Couch, causing him to fall. The Steelers have notified the league of the change. That means Smith finished the regular season with eight sacks, fourth best on the team.

Quarterback coach Tom Clements has turned down an opportunity to be head coach of the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League, according ESPN.com .

ILB Earl Holmes has not played in the dime defense since his knee was injured on a chop block. He has been replaced by Mike Jones. But Holmes said he wants his old spot back when the playoffs begin. "We want to see how I feel next week," Holmes said. "If I feel like I feel this week, that's a big possibility. It's playoff time. Everything counts. You lose, you go home. I'm going to leave everything I got on the field."

RG Rich Tylski did not start six of the final seven games because of a high ankle sprain and cracked ribs. But he will return to the starting lineup when the Steelers begin the playoffs. Tylski played in the second half in the season finale against the Browns, though Oliver Ross started the game at right guard. That made it appear as though Tylski was playing with the backup lineman, but that wasn't the case. Tylski has been back practicing with the first team this week. "It was good to get out there and get some reps and try to get back on track before we start this thing," Tylski said. "It's the best I've felt the last few weeks. Everything's good to go."

Ross, who had never started an NFL game and appeared in just two before this season, finished with seven starts -- one at left tackle for Wayne Gandy against Baltimore, six at right guard. Ross had never played guard before this season, either in high school or college. "I think I still got some work to do, more at guard than at tackle," Ross said. "Being more comfortable at tackle, I think guard is a little more difficult [to learn]. It takes more time to get used to. It's more inside, it's more cluttered. At tackle, you're just one-on-one in space. It's harder to run block at guard because you're in a tighter space."

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