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Steelers Are Picking Up Where They Left Off in 2003

Wednesday, September 8, 2004; Page H16

It was fitting that Coach Bill Cowher made numerous changes to the Steelers because there was very little appealing about a team that finished 6-10 and missed the playoffs for the fourth time in six seasons.

He waved farewell to the franchise's all-time sacks leader (linebacker Jason Gildon), the team's veteran safety (Brent Alexander) and a running back (Amos Zereoue) he felt was the team's best early last season.


He also parted ways with his defensive coordinator, and watched Buffalo hire his offensive coordinator (Mike Mularkey) as its head coach.

"It is not a veteran team like we have had in years past where you could talk about certain things, do certain things," Cowher said.

"Where we are this year is based on how we finished last year. Let's face it, every year is a new opportunity. . . . Refocusing needed to be done around here with everyone, myself included."

Now, the question facing the Steelers is whether the additions -- namely former Philadelphia running back Duce Staley -- can lead them back to their second division title in three years.

Staley (463 yards, five touchdowns) is a younger, faster model than the Steelers' old bus, Jerome Bettis (811 yards, seven touchdowns), and must rejuvenate a rushing attack that ranked last in the AFC (31st overall) last year.

Quarterback Tommy Maddox (team-record 519 attempts and 298 completions) returns, but if he struggles, expect Ben Roethlisberger -- the first quarterback drafted by the team in the first round in 24 years -- to be used earlier than expected.

Pittsburgh should blitz early and often under veteran defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who replaced Tim Lewis.

LeBeau inherited a mediocre defense, but has a solid front seven led by Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton, and linebackers Joey Porter, James Farrior and Kendrell Bell.


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