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These are not the 'Same Old Steelers'


Pittsburgh Steelers founder Art Rooney Sr. once coined a phrase that became a standing headline following each of the team's losses.

One summer, as the Steelers assembled for a team picture in their new designer-like uniforms, replete with the outline of a golden triangle across the jersey's shoulders and upper chest, a sportswriter asked Rooney what he thought of the new togs.

"Looks like the same old Steelers to me," Rooney said.

S.O.S.--Same Old Steelers; a tradition in newspaper journalism and fan dissent was born.

That was 35 years ago. Make no mistake about it, these are not the "Same Old Steelers."

How about a new state-of-the-art football-only stadium? The Steelers will host the first-ever NFL regular season game in Heinz Field history on Sept. 16, against, of course, the Cleveland Browns.

And how about a change in defensive scheme? This season, the Steelers -- the only 3-4 team left in pro football -- are experimenting with a 4-3 defensive alignment. The last time the Steelers played the 4-3, it had a name: The Steel Curtain.

These Steelers have a new offensive coordinator, a head coach with a new contract, a budding new star on defense, and new hope for a return to the playoffs.

Of course, there is much about the Steelers that isn't new. Kordell Stewart and Jerome Bettis are still running the offense, but they may not even be the "S.O.S.--Same Old Stewart" and the "S.O.B.--Same Old Bettis."

This Sunday, at Alltel Stadium, the Jaguars will host these mysterious Steelers in the regular-season opener, under a "one o'clock" sun that promises to bake and fade the Steelers' black jerseys.

"I feel great. I haven't felt this good in the preseason in a long time. I'm ready to go," Bettis said.

Bettis, who carried 28 times for 97 yards and two touchdowns in the Steelers' 24-13 win in Jacksonville on Oct. 1 of last season, kept his weight down in the offseason and professes to be recovered from the knee injuries that had plagued him the previous two seasons.

"Some of the coaches were kidding me and saying I even looked quick out there," he joked. "I haven't been 100 percent in two years. I've been playing on one leg. What you saw was a guy on a bad knee.

"I've still got a lot of football left in me," said Bettis, 29, the 14th leading rusher in NFL history at 9,804 yards. He passed Earl Campbell last season. "The Bus" has enjoyed five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons since joining the Steelers in 1996.

Stewart is coming off his best preseason performance since 1997, when "Slash" led the Steelers to the AFC title game in his first season as a starting quarterback.

"I like where he's at with his thought process. He's been very decisive," head coach Bill Cowher said of Stewart, who seems to have meshed with new offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey. The previous two seasons, under former Jaguars offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, Stewart struggled with the offensive system and his eroding confidence.

Mularkey has attempted to devise an offense that fits Stewart's talents and minimizes his weaknesses. Stewart is required to make fewer line-of-scrimmage reads, and his receivers are not involved in as many route adjustments. It's a simpler offense.

"We, as a group, are really just sticking our nose to the grind and understanding that we want to get out there and, first of all, protect the ball and not have any mistakes to cause us to have a fumble, penalty or whatever," Stewart said.

That strategy was successful in the preseason, but regular-season defensive schemes will be much more sophisticated.

That brings us to the Steelers defense, one of the most respected units in the NFL through the 1990's. Then, they were the 3-4, zone-blitz Steelers of "Blitzburgh" fame. Now, they are the last remaining vestige of the 3-4, but it would seem they are moving toward a return to the 4-3 they last played 20 years ago.

An extra defensive tackle comes onto the field, rookie inside linebacker Kendrell Bell comes off and, presto, the Steelers are no longer the Steelers.

The move to the 4-3 is a way of accommodating defensive line personnel the Steelers believe is considerably improved in numbers and quality. Meanwhile, Bell, the second-round pick who quickly earned a reputation this summer for being a big-hitter, replaces LeVon Kirkland in the lineup next to Earl Holmes in the Steelers' 3-4 scheme. Kirkland was cut this past spring.

"We have some people who can play the 4-3. I don't know that we've had the quality of defensive linemen that we have this year," Cowher said.

It is one of the changes that gives the Steelers a new look and new hope.

Vic Ketchman is the Senior Editor of Jaguars Inside Report, the official team newspaper of the Jacksonville Jaguars. One-year subscriptions may be purchased by calling 1-888-846-5247.*


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