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09-09-2009, 02:31 AM
Steelers Team Report

Pittsburgh enters the season as reigning Super Bowl champ in great shape to try to repeat. The Steelers return 19 of 22 starters from the Super Bowl and have strengthened two areas that were dreadful last season, that of punter and return man.

But the Steelers failed miserably against Tennessee last season, in the 15th game when they lost in Nashville 31-14 with the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs on the line. The Titans rushed for 117 yards against the NFL's No. 1 defense and quarterback Kerry Collins was an efficient 20 of 29 for 216 yards, one 34-yard touchdown and no interceptions.

It was the last loss Pittsburgh has suffered, and the Steelers remember it well.

"There is a lot to be concerned about when you play those guys," coach Mike Tomlin said. "We know what it is like to be on the wrong end of one of those games against those guys. They beat us handily last year."

The Steelers' offense also had a hard time against Tennessee, even though defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth was hurt and did not play in that game. The Steelers managed only 73 yards rushing and Ben Roethlisberger, while throwing for 329 yards and two touchdowns, also was picked off twice, once for an 83-yard touchdown return.

Willie Parker ran 19 times for only 31 yards that game. Parker, who missed five full games last season, will start Thursday night and Rashard Mendenhall also returns in full health. Mendenhall was out for the rest of the season when his shoulder was broken in the fourth game.

That, and improvement in the offensive line, has led the Steelers to believe they will be much better on the ground this season, perhaps starting Thursday night against Tennessee.

"I think we want to get the run game better than 23rd in league," Parker said. "That's not Steeler football. I think we really want to run the ball this year."
Mendenhall was less than impressive in the preseason and Parker played only one game because of injuries to his back and hamstring. They decided to go with one fewer back this season to make room for punt/kick returner Stefan Logan. They have three pure running backs, including third-down back Mewelde Moore, and one combination, rookie Frank Summers, who also will play fullback. Their leading rusher and scorer from the preseason, undrafted rookie Isaac Redman, is on the practice squad.

Despite having one fewer back, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said he loves his backfield.

"They all bring something special to the table," Arians said. "All can block, catch and run. That's a solid backfield."

They also will use rookie tight end David Johnson in that backfield as a blocker at times.

SERIES HISTORY: 68th meeting in a series that began in 1970. Steelers lead the series of the former, longtime division rivals 38-29 (plus, they are 3-1 in the playoffs), including a 24-11 record at home. They last met Dec. 21 in Tennessee when the Titans whipped the Steelers 31-14 and clinched the AFC's No. 1 playoff seed. Those were the most points scored against the Steelers last season, when Pittsburgh boasted the No. 1 defense in total yards and points in the NFL.


Center Justin Hartwig signed a new contract on the eve of the opener. His new deal covers four years at $10 million, including a $2.1 million signing bonus. He came to the Steelers in 2008 after Carolina released him, and he settled down the position.

A few days earlier, kicker Jeff Reed and his agent quickly turned aside a contract extension offer they regarded as a lowball.
Reed and four starters enter the final seasons on their contracts: NT Casey Hampton, RB Willie Parker, OT Willie Colon and FS Ryan Clark.

Said Parker of the possibility this will be his last season in Pittsburgh: "I'm a Steeler, the Steelers are all I know. I love these guys here. I really can't talk about the future, I can only worry about the present. Tomorrow will take care of itself."

Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, whose ground game ranked just 23rd in the NFL last season, has been criticized for his infrequent use of a blocking fullback. This week, he declared he has no fullback.

"There's not a fullback on the roster," said Arians, although rookie Frank Summers is listed as such. "There's a running back who plays fullback, a tight end who plays fullback. I don't have a fullback. There's no fullback in my offense, there's never going to be one."

Heather Miller, an 11-year-old cancer patient from Bedford, Pa., was lifted high in the air by 350-pound nose tackle Casey Hampton and given a round of applause by the Steelers after practice on Tuesday. She came as part of the Make-a-Wish program and it will be televised on NBC's Today show Thursday morning.

It did not take long for the Steelers to determine that Bruce Davis was a flop. Davis, the Steelers' third-round draft choice in 2008, had 25.5 sacks as a defensive end in his final two seasons at UCLA. He was converted to outside linebacker in the Steelers 3-4 but was not good enough to play on special teams and rarely dressed for games. Davis did so little this summer that not only was he released, but the did not even sign him to their practice squad.

By The Numbers:

38 - Number of season-opening wins by Pittsburgh, tops among AFC teams as the Steelers go for their seventh win in the past seven openers.

Quote To Note:

"When I'm dead and gone, guys are still going to remember that Super Bowl catch."
- WR Santonio Holmes, waiting to make his next official catch since the one that beat Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII.