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The Steeler Report Card
By Harvey Aronson


Final Report Card - 2000 Season


Defensive Line: The line up front up front on defense for Pittsburgh has easily been the Achilles heel of this unit. When Jim Haslet took off for New Orleans and Tim Lewis took over, he knew he had really only one glaring weakness with his defensive team; defensive line. With Orpheus Roye taking the free agency highway to Cleveland, Joel Steed retired, Nolan Harrison often injured and then cut, the need for replacements was obvious. Pittsburgh went out and drafted Kendrick Clancy for Nose Tackle, and signed veterans Chris Sullivan and Kimo von Oehlfen. At first look, little was expected from Sullivan and Oehlfen. Both were journeymen on the Patriots and Bengals respectively. Both were guaranteed a shot at starting in Pittsburgh. Oehlfen only had to battle Clancy and rookie Chris Combs for the starting role at Nose Tackle. He won the spot easily. There was some toying with Jeremy Staat at the position, but Staat could not handle it, and in fact has yet to find himself with this team at all. Sullivan on the other hand suffered an injury after getting the starting nod with Kevin Henry. He was replaced when sidelined by second-year man Aaron Smith, and Smith never looked back. Aaron smith did what Staat could not do, be effective. But it was Oehlfen who was the big surprise, playing outstanding football, especially against the run. He started a fad that spread like wildfire around the NFL as well. It began when Kimo found himself sucking air during a game. He started drinking PICKLE JUICE for energy. The next thing you know, the practice of doing just that is on the air and other players began following suit. Kevin Henry anchored the other side of the line, and was steady but far from spectacular. The Steelers defensive font did somewhat better in pressuring the Quarterback in 2000 than they had done in 1999, but they still need to find a guy who can be a consistent threat to get into opposing backfields. Relying on the linebackers and defensive secondary players for sacks can only go so far. Overall grade: D+

Linebackers: Much like Penn State University, often called "Linebacker U.," the Steelers are famous for their linebackers over history. The names are synonymous with greatness. Russell, Lambert, Ham, Merriweather, Nickerson, Lloyd, Kirkland. Every season since 1970, Pittsburgh has had at least one Pro Bowl caliber Linebacker. Most of the time there were 3-4 fine linebackers playing at once. 2001 may have been one season in Steelers' history where there was four of the best linebackers in the NFL playing at once. Led by Levon Kirkland, he teamed with Earl Holmes, Pro Bowl named Jason Gildon, and second-year pro Joey Porter to create a linebacking corps that was second to none. This unit had its lapses during the season, but for the most part; dominated. They got off to a fast start, playing a part in not allowing a touchdown in 20 consecutive quarters during one stretch, just two shy of the all-time NFL record held by the 1976 Steelers. Joey Porter came into his own in 2000 as pretty much everyone expected. He filled the shoes of Carlos Emmons who crossed the state to play in Philadelphia. Porter's speed is one of his best assets, and opposing teams were often not prepared for that. The tandem of Porter/Gildon rang up one of the highest sack totals in the league between two linebackers on the same team. Mike Fiala, Mike Vrabel, Donnell Thompson and Clark Haggans backed up the fearsome foursome of the Steelers. Overall grade: A+

Cornerbacks: Chad Scott has had an up and down career for the Steelers. He got the starting nod in his rookie season four years ago and was torched early and often. But Bill Cowher had faith in Scott's abilities and stuck with him. By season's end in 1997, Chad Scott was one of the promising top rookies in the NFL. But in '98 he suffered a season-ending knee injury and upon his return in 1999 he was not the same. It seemed like he lost a step despite being in outstanding shape. He was inconsistent, and fans' patience was growing thin. But this season he appeared to get back to his usual self, and with Dewayne Washington on the other side, the Steelers defensive secondary was solid. Much like Scott, Washington got off to a rocky start in Pittsburgh after coming over from the Minnesota Vikings as a free agent. Washington was not defending in man-to-man too badly, but the knock on him was he was blowing interception opportunities by not being able to keep his hands on the ball. It seemed as though Washington had a bad case of "butterfingers." After his initial season with the Steelers in 1998, he improved dramatically in 1999. He was holding onto balls that came into his hands, and teamed with Chad Scott, the two combined for a total of 10 interceptions this past season. They were also very effective against the run, and put on some tough physical hits on opposing receivers. In third down situations, Deshea Townsend and Jason Simmons shared time and both played extremely well. Overall grade: B-

Safety: Between Cornerback and Safety, the Steelers may have lost more players to free agency at those spots more than anywhere else on the team. Gone from past seasons are Rod Woodson, Carnell Lake, Deion Figures, Willie Williams, Randy Fuller, Myron Bell, and Chris Oldham just to name a few. But when Carnell Lake left for Jacksonville, the Steelers made sure Lee Flowers stayed home by giving him a major contract. Starting as a backup, Bill Cowher gave Flowers a chance to start with all the defections and he made the most of it. Flowers remains the leader and emotional, inspirational spark plug of the defensive secondary. The Steelers drafted Scott Shields in 1999, a big athletic Safety to help fill the void left by Carnell Lake. But, a veteran was still needed, so Travis Davis was signed away from Jacksonville in 1999. As our Features Writer Pedro Reyes liked to call him, "Travesty Davis" was just that. He stunk up the joint and was released following the '99 season . Scott Shields showed promise, and was named starter prior to the start of this past season. To back him up, Brent Alexander was brought in from Carolina where he spent years as a starter. It didn't take long for him so unseed Shields as the starter. Shields suffered a minor injury and never won his job back. In fact, he appeared to regress in 2000. Meanwhile, Alexander was playing at a near "pro bowl" level and actually picked off three passes. As insurance, Nokie Codie was signed as a free agent and Ainsley Battles drafted as a rookie. Battles came in late in the season when both Alexander and Shields were hurt, and played extremely well. He had been on special teams where he was excelling. Battles has a definite future in Pittsburgh. Overall grade: B+

Punter: Josh Miller put the letters "PB" on his shoes this season in an attempt to tell nay Sayers that he was going to the Pro Bowl. For the second straight season he was not named despite having a Pro Bowl caliber season. Miller averaged 43.8 yards per kick with a 39.7 net. His longest was 67 and had only one kick blocked. Of his 90 punts 34 traveled inside the 20 and eight were touchbacks. In a game late in the season, he got knocked out of the game with a concussion, but returned to make a punt as Kris Brown prepared to take his place. Miller in that instance showed his toughness. Overall grade: A-

Special teams: Hank Poteat was drafted in 2000 with the intention of adding to the depth at his position of Cornerback. But, when Will Blackwell went down with an injury, Poteat was promoted to special teams and the job of returning kicks. He made fans temporarily forget Blackwell, as he averaged 19 yards on 24 kickoff returns. His longest was a return of 31 yards. On punt returns he brought back 36 of them for an average of 13.0. He saved his best return for a record breaker. In the final game ever at Three Rivers Stadium, Poteat brought back a punt 54 yards for a touchdown, his only return for a score all season on kickoffs or punts. It was also the longest punt return for a touchdown by a Steeler in Three Rivers Stadium history. On punt returns for Pittsburgh in 2000 only two other players even touched the ball. Bobby Shaw had two returns, Courtney Hawkins four. On kickoffs, Troy Edwards caught 15 with a better average than Poteat of 19.9, with his long being 37. When Blackwell returned he reminded fans why he held the job first. He returned 10 kickoffs for an average of 28.1 yards per return including an outstanding, exciting, 98-yard romp for a touchdown in the season's final game. As far as defensive coverage goes, guys like Chris Combs, John Fiala, Mike Vrabel, Jason Simmons, Donnell Thompson, and Amos Zereoue made up a unit that was not outstanding, but held their own. In fact, if the Steelers hold on to "Famous" Amos, he may never get any further than playing special teams for Pittsburgh. Overall grade: C+

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