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Notebook: Relaxed Roethlisberger impresses Cowher

Jerry DiPaola
| Monday, May 10, 2004

There is a lot to like about rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers' first-round draft choice.

After watching Roethlisberger at minicamp, which concluded Sunday, Steelers coach Bill Cowher chose to dwell on something that is not so obvious to an outside observer.

"I was impressed that he wasn't overwhelmed," Cowher said. "Sometimes, you come in and the terminology and getting in and out of huddle and seeing things (can be a problem), but I was very encouraged by the way he was able to comprehend things.

"Still, there is a lot of learning that is going to take place. Things are going to get faster."

Of course, Cowher couldn't overlook Roethelisberger's strong arm and 6-foot-5, 242-pound physique.

"He's very athletic, and you can see some of the throws off the movement. But it's going to take a while to get in sync with everybody else and what we are doing," Cowher said.

Roethlisberger said their was only part of his weekend that was similar to college.

"It's football. That's about the only thing that is close," he said.

He said the most difficult part was "learning the offense, learning the plays and trying to relay it to the rest of the team. It's new. That's what makes it kind of tough."

No Burress, day No. 3

Cowher was reluctant to discuss wide receiver Plaxico Burress' continued absence, but he did say he is "hopeful" that all players will return May 18 for the first of 14 coaching sessions that run through June 10.

"They are voluntary," he said, "but we stress the importance of them."

Asked about Burress, who missed the entire three-day, five-practice weekend, he said, "I'm just looking at our football team. I am really not addressing anybody who is not here, and I think the most important thing is that you focus on the players who are here and are trying to get better."

Cowher said these spring practices are important with several new faces on the roster and coaching staff. One of them is wide receivers coach Bruce Arians, who has had little contact with Burress.

"There is a feeling-out process that is taking place, and this is part of us getting know one another," Cowher said. "That does take time."

New-look secondary

One of the highlights of the minicamp was the evidence of increased speed and youth in the secondary, with free safety Chris Hope, 23, replacing Brent Alexander, 32, and strong safety Troy Polamalu, 23, stepping in for Mike Logan, 29. Plus, right cornerback Deshea Townsend, 28, looks to be more active than Dewayne Washington, 31, who was the starter at this time last year.

Polamalu made his presence known, making several plays on the football.

"Troy has kind of flashed," Cowher said. "He feels more comfortable. He almost stepped up to take a little bit of a leadership role. You can see the way he has approached that with all the calls he's making."

Townsend became the starter midway through last season, so his good play this weekend did not surprise Cowher.

"Deshea has been making plays from the time he has been inserted," Cowher said. "He kind of seized that opportunity. He went in there, and he is never looking back. I'm very comfortable with him back there. He's the wiley veteran, him and Chad (Scott), in a young secondary."

'New' O-line

There are no new starters on the offensive line, but Cowher might dispute that.

"I look at Marvel (Smith) and Kendall (Simmons) as having new guys," he said of his left tackle and right guard, "because both of those guys were not 100 percent last year."

Smith is recovered from his neck injury, and Cowher said Simmons is 10 pounds heavier than his best weight last year when he was diagnosed with diabetes that sapped his strength and was an issue all season.

Injury update

Scott, who is entering his seventh year as the starter at left cornerback, has worn his sprained ankle in a protective boot since it was stepped on Friday. Cowher said Scott should be ready to return by the time the coaching sessions begin.

Linebacker Kendrell Bell (groin) did not practice and tight end Jay Riemersma (shoulder) was limited yesterday.

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