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Steelers Steelers: Fordham making a fresh start

Saturday, September 06, 2003

By Gerry Dulac, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Todd Fordham, the newest Steelers starter, doesn't need any introduction to the player he will face tomorrow at Heinz Field. Peter Boulware, a three-time Pro Bowl linebacker with the Baltimore Ravens, played with Fordham at Florida State. And they faced each other when Fordham, a 6-foot-5, 315-pound right tackle, played with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Actually, Fordham's biggest introduction likely will be with the other members of the Steelers' offensive line, who spent most of the preseason trying to get acclimated to Oliver Ross at right tackle.

Fordham, a career backup with the Jaguars, was anointed the starter this week after playing 23 minutes in the final preseason game against the Carolina Panthers.

He steps into the position vacated when Marvel Smith, a three-year starter on the right side, moved to left tackle to replace departed Wayne Gandy.

 
 
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COMING UP

What: Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens

When: 1 p.m. tomorrow

Where: Heinz Field

TV, Radio: KDKA, WDVE-FM (102.5)/WBGG-AM (970) and the Steelers Radio Network

Notable: The Steelers are 11-4 overall against the Ravens and 5-3 against them at home.


Traffic update for tomorrow's Steelers game

   
 

"I think Todd has earned the opportunity," coach Bill Cowher said.

That was welcome news to Fordham, a seven-year veteran who spent most of his time in Jacksonville filling in for injured players. The Steelers signed him in free agency because they wanted depth at right tackle.

But Fordham spent most of training camp playing guard while Kendall Simmons, who was diagnosed with a diabetic condition, tried to regain his strength and stamina. When he finally got a chance to start at right tackle in Carolina, Fordham made the most of his opportunity. He played so well against defensive end Julius Peppers, the NFL's 2002 defensive rookie of the year, the coaches had no choice but to choose him to start.

And that was before Fordham's ankle was injured with seven minutes remaining in the first half.

"I was more concerned at the time with

just how healthy I was," said Fordham, 29. "I didn't really think about [being the starter]. When I go in there, I just try to treat every play like it's my last one. I feel like if you do that, you're going to play well on every play.

"I knew it was probably going to come down to who was healthier, me or Oliver, at the time. So I just went out there and did everything I could. And when I got hurt, I just had to hope I had done enough to make it where they could make a decision."

Fordham has jumped all over the offensive line in his career, making 12 starts at left tackle, 17 at right tackle and one at right guard with the Jaguars. Fordham started eight games at right tackle in 2000 when Zach Wiegert was out and 12 games at left tackle in 2001 when Pro Bowler Tony Boselli was injured.

This time, Fordham begins the season as a starter, and it's not because Ross (ankle/probable) is on the injured list.

"I think both those guys can play, but coach felt Todd earned that spot," offensive line coach Russ Grimm said. "He had 30-some snaps [against the Panthers] and he was just consistent; he was good in his sets. He still needs to work on some things -- they all do -- but for his first real start he had a good showing."

"Anytime you can go out and play against a player like that, and come out doing decent against him, you feel good," Fordham said. "But the way I look at it, that's gone. Now it's all about -- what are you going to do this week? Nothing's as old as yesterday's news."

Fordham's time in Jacksonville -- he was an undrafted free agent in 1997 -- allowed him to become familiar with the Steelers' division opponents: the Ravens, Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals. When he started for Wiegert and then Boselli, he played against Boulware, the Ravens' pass-rush specialist.

Boulware has settled back at left outside linebacker in the Ravens' 3-4 defense, but he did play defensive end in 2001 when Michael McCrary had a season-ending injury. Despite the position change, Boulware finished the season with 15 sacks, most in the AFC and second in the NFL. Two of those sacks came against Fordham in a Nov. 25 game in Jacksonville.

"I know what kind of person Pete is," Fordham said. "I know that every time you face him, you better strap it up because he's going to come on every play. He's a great pass rusher, a great athlete, and he plays hard. He's like the other 10 guys on that defense -- they all play hard and run to the ball and they're aggressive."

NOTES -- QB Tommy Maddox was named offensive captain, LBs Joey Porter and Jason Gildon defensive co-captains and Clark Haggans special-teams captain in a vote by the players. Cowher said Porter and Gildon received the same number of votes, while Maddox and Haggans were "clear-cut winners." ... The Steelers used WR/KR Antwaan Randle El as a holder for placements in the preseason, but Maddox will handle the duty during the regular season. ... The Ravens brought in two wide receivers in free agency -- Frank Sanders (Arizona) and Marcus Robinson (Chicago) -- to go with former No. 1 pick Travis Taylor. Sanders, though, has not played since having two toes dislocated on his first catch of the preseason. He is listed as doubtful on the Ravens' injury report. Two other players -- CB Gary Baxter (knee) and P Dave Zastudil (leg) have been added to the injury list. They are listed as probable. ... Fans who attend games at Heinz Field can participate in a program called "Kid Connection" that reunites parents with lost children. Parents can register their child at the main guest services room, near Section 104, in the Coca-Cola Great Hall. A wristband with the location of the parents' seats will be given to the child in case they get separated.


Gerry Dulac can be reached at gdulac@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1466.

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