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Steelers Steelers Report: 11/6/03

Thursday, November 06, 2003

By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

LOOKING AHEAD

Steelers (2-6) vs. Arizona Cardinals (3-5), 1 p.m. Sunday, Heinz Field. TV: WPGH. Radio: WDVE-FM (102.5), WBGG-AM (979) and Steelers Radio Network.

NOTEBOOK

Safety Dexter Jackson finally gets a chance to play in Heinz Field Sunday, but not the way the Steelers had planned it in March. They thought they had come to a contract agreement with Jackson and his agent, Peter Schaffer, only to find out the next day that Jackson had taken a better offer from the Arizona Cardinals. "He was all set to go to Pittsburgh," Schaffer said. The Steelers had offered five years and $12 million, and the Cardinals came up to $14 million. Coach Bill Cowher reportedly became angry at Schaffer because he felt the agent had struck a deal with the Steelers. Losing Jackson, the Super Bowl MVP last season, caused a dramatic shift in the Steelers' draft-day plans. They felt they needed a safety to bolster their sagging secondary, so instead of having Jackson, they traded their picks in the first, third and sixth rounds to move 11 spots higher in the first round and take Troy Polamalu.

Polamalu has not started a game but plays in the nickel and dime defenses. He's 12th among the Steelers with 13 tackles and leads the special teams with 12. He has only one other statistic, a pass defensed. Jackson has started all eight games at strong safety for the Cardinals, is third with 58 tackles and leads them with three interceptions, two forced fumbles and six passes defensed.

"Dexter's been playing very well for us," said coach Dave McGinnis. "He's been a big part of what we're continuing to build here. He solidified our secondary back there in the back end for us. He's been a very steady player against the run. He's had some big interceptions for us."

Jeff Reed has picked up where he left off his rookie season, when he made it through a five-man tryout in a November rain at Heinz Field, joined the Steelers and made 17 of his 19 field-goal attempts in the regular season. He has connected on 14 of 16 tries this season, including one of 51 yards and a season-high of three last week in Seattle, including a 49-yarder. One of his two misses was tipped at the line of scrimmage. Sunday will be Reed's 15th NFL game, and he has proven two things: Last year was not a fluke, and a kicker can have success in Heinz Field. His predecessors, Kris Brown and Todd Peterson, found the new home field daunting, but Reed has made 16 of 19 kicks there. He likes the new grass field, which has a small amount of artificial grass that anchors it, but says a stiffer test will occur Sunday after the City League high school championship takes place Thursday and Pitt plays Virginia Tech Saturday night.

"It's a lot better [this year]," Reed said. "There's grass. There was a lot more mud and sand last year."

According to ESPN, only one team has made the playoffs after a 2-6 start since the 1970 merger, and it hasn't been done in 23 years. The 1970 Cincinnati Bengals won the inaugural AFC Central Division championship with an 8-6 record to nose out the 7-7 Cleveland Browns.

The official injury report for the game Sunday -- Steelers: OT Marvel Smith (neck) out; TE Jay Riemersma (knee), LB Clint Kriewaldt (hamstring) questionable;. WR Plaxico Burress (shoulder), CB Chidi Iwuoma (groin), WR Lee Mays (back), CB/KR Ike Taylor (finger) probable. Arizona: K Bill Gramatica (back), LB Gerald Hayes (shoulder), WR Jason McAddley (hamstring), RB Emmitt Smith (shoulder) out; DT Derrick Ransom (ankle) questionable; James Hodgins (ankle) probable.

Riemersma and Kriewaldt practiced yesterday, and Cowher has said he might upgrade them by the end of the week. Burress did not practice. Smith practiced, as he has the previous two weeks, in shells only. Smith said there was a time when he worried his pinched nerve would not heal. "It wasn't getting better, and it didn't feel like it was going to. Right now, it feels better than ever. Some of the treatment I was getting a couple of weeks ago helped out a lot, and it just seems it's progressed."

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