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Steelers Steelers Notebook: 4 veterans leave as part of final 5 cuts

Monday, September 03, 2001

By Ed Bouchette, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

All five of the final cuts the Steelers made yesterday were players who spent time with them last season.

Four were veterans -- quarterback Kent Graham, linebacker Donnel Thompson, tight end Cory Geason and safety Ainsley Battles. The other was Demetrius Brown, who spent last year on their practice squad.

Thompson and Battles made the club last year as undrafted rookies. Geason spent 1999 on their practice squad and played in nine games last season, starting three.

The Steelers also placed veteran defensive end Chris Sullivan on injured reserve rather than release him, as they had announced on Friday. He likely will be released once his injured wrist, which underwent surgery three weeks ago, heals.

They also activated fullback Dan Kreider from the physically unable to perform list. Kreider, their rookie of the year last season, has not practiced this summer because of a calf muscle injured in a walk-through, but he will practice today.

The final cuts brought the roster to the mandatory 53-man limit. The Steelers can sign players to their practice squad after they clear waivers, and some of those rookies and first-year players they released may wind up on their five-man practice unit.

Among those making the opening-day roster are three undrafted rookies -- linebacker Justin Kurpeikis, defensive tackle Chris Hoke and guard Keydrick Vincent. Hoke is a 25-year-old rookie from Brigham Young who spent two years as a Mormon missionary in Brussels, Belgium. Kurpeikis is from Allison Park and played at Central Catholic High School and Penn State.

The cuts also mean the Steelers will open with only five receivers instead of their normal six, and all are veterans -- Plaxico Burress, Hines Ward, Troy Edwards, Bobby Shaw and Will Blackwell.

Veteran safety Myron Bell also made the roster. Bell played for the Steelers from 1994 through 1997, signed with Cincinnati as a free agent and then signed with no one when he became a free agent against last year. The Steelers signed him in an emergency before their final game last season.

Eight rookies made the final roster.

Less is better

The Steelers used the 4-3 defense against the Buffalo Bills for the second consecutive exhibition game, but the coaches don't plan to get carried away with it.

The 4-3 suits the Steelers the way the T-formation suits the 49ers.

There's a reason the Steelers run the 3-4 defense and why they will continue to do so -- personnel. Jason Gildon and Joey Porter combined for 24 sacks last season as the top two linebackers in the NFL in that category.

Suddenly turning them into 4-3 linebackers who must cover receivers more than they rush the quarterback would not be sound.

Gildon and Porter don't mind the different look the occasional use of the 4-3 gives an opponent, but they would hate to see a steady diet of it.

"We do drop more in the 4-3," Gildon said. "I could see if I was dropping all the time it would be different, but since we have a limited amount of plays out of the 4-3 and we do have a few rushes in it, and a few drops, it kind of balances out.

"But if we ran it full-time and got away from rushing, then I probably wouldn't like it as much."

The Steelers really have no outside linebacker that fits the 4-3. Clark Haggans, like many of the Steelers' outside linebackers through the years, played defensive end in college. So did Justin Kurpeikis.

Porter and Gildon were defensive ends in college.

"If you ask me can I play the 4-3, I feel I can," Porter said. "But it's like why go 4-3 [all the time] when you have me and Jason rushing from the outside?"

Like Gildon, Porter is not opposed to playing the 4-3 on occasion.

"It just gives our defense that many more dimensions."

Since the Steelers have made no progress in their contract talks with Gildon and Earl Holmes, it could also be that they are looking ahead to 2002.

Ailing Jaguars

Jacksonville, the Steelers' first opponent, is hurting. The Jaguars have six injured starters and four or five might not play against the visiting Steelers on Sunday.

The latest injury victim was defensive end Tony Brackens, who left the Thursday night game in Dallas with a sprained knee and will miss 4-6 weeks.

The rest include tight end Kyle Brady, who has a staph infection in his lower leg; cornerback Fernando Bryant, who has a separated shoulder; weakside linebacker T.J. Slaughter, who has a separated shoulder, and left tackle Tony Boselli, who has a sprained knee.

Boselli likely will play against the Steelers and a few of the others might play, but none has been practicing the past week.

Witman back, too

Jon Witman, like Kreider, will return to the practice field today, giving the Steelers some cushion at fullback rather than Cushing.

Tight end Matt Cushing had been forced into duty at fullback because Kreider did not practice all summer with a calf muscle pull and Witman missed most of the practices with a bad back.

But Kreider and Witman have been given the go-ahead to practice.

"I'm not going to be totally pain free, but I feel good," Witman said. "I felt good last week before I tied my shoe."

Bending over for that chore, Witman's back gave out.

"I have a lot of work to do this week, trying to get my timing back," Witman said. "I've only played one game. I'll play hard and go from there. I feel good now, it's just time to get to work."

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