Both coaches looking for more in Vikings-Steelers game
Ben Roethlisberger may not get on the field at all. Tarvaris Jackson may not get out there soon enough for some Minnesota Vikings fans.
No matter which quarterbacks play in the Vikings-Pittsburgh Steelers exhibition game Saturday night, their coaches want to see something much different than they did in the teams' preseason openers.
For a start, that means fewer mistakes, better execution by the offense and a few more points following a week in which each team made more news off the field than on it.
"We had a lot of mental errors on offense. We lost every third down with that first group. I'd like to see us improve on some little things," Steelers coach Bill Cowher said, referring to a 21-13 loss at Arizona. "I want them to play fast. I want them to play with confidence. If you take that approach, you'll find that mistakes will happen less and less."
Of course, the Steelers could have lost by 40 points and still have received a huge reception Saturday, the first game they will play in Pittsburgh since the end of the last regular season. They were on the road for each of their three AFC playoff games and, of course, the Super Bowl, so this will be the first time Steelers fans can salute their champions in a game setting.
Brad Childress, the new Vikings coach, hopes that going against a championship team will push his team to play better than it did in a 16-13 loss to the Oakland Raiders on Monday night.
"You have to have your mind right against these guys," Childress said. "It isn't so much so that they (the Vikings) didn't Monday night. Pittsburgh by its nature is a physical, hard-nosed team. They run a physical, hard-nosed training camp. That's what they pride themselves on. You better be ready for that."
Or, as offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said, "Any time you're playing the world champs, it gives you a great barometer of where you are."
The Vikings may not have to be ready for Roethlisberger, who played only one series against Arizona and may not get even that Saturday. On Wednesday, he sprained the right thumb he initially hurt late last season, so it seems unlikely he would play.
Charlie Batch, the backup who won both of his starts when Roethlisberger injured a knee last season, will start if Roethlisberger can't go. Cowher hopes to give his starters a quarter's worth of playing time to sharpen them up.
The Vikings' starters might play into the second quarter, though their fans are eager to get a second look before that at Jackson, the fast, deceptive rookie from Alabama State.
While starting quarterback Brad Johnson's play wasn't a disappointment — he was 5-of-6 for 32 yards while running the Vikings' West Coast-type offense — Jackson got the home crowd going by going 7-of-13 for 60 yards and scrambling for 36 yards while playing slightly more than one quarter.
"It's fun to watch him grow as a quarterback and, obviously, he has a lot of talent. We just need to give him time to flourish and it's been fun to watch him," Johnson said.
Mike McMahon, a former Pittsburgh-area high school star who had been expected to be the No. 2 quarterback, will follow Johnson and Jackson.
Both teams dealt with unwanted distractions during the week, including yet another embarrassing situation for a Vikings team that had a plethora of off-field problems last season.
Wide receiver Koren Robinson, signed to a $12.7 million contract in March that included $5.5 million in guaranteed money, was charged with fleeing from police and driving while intoxicated after his car was caught traveling 100 mph in a 55-mph zone Tuesday night. Robinson was tailed by police for 15 miles before finally stopping.
Robinson's future with the team is uncertain, and his absence means the Vikings must get more production from their other three top receivers, Troy Williamson, Travis Taylor and Marcus Robinson.
The Steelers have a different kind of worry, namely whether Cowher will return next season. He and the Steelers broke off contract talks this week and, while Cowher is under contract for the upcoming season, he has not said if he will return in 2007.
"The team hasn't been affected at all. Most guys talk about it — 'What do you think• Do you think he's going to be here?,'" linebacker Joey Porter said. "Coach Cowher is here now. Until we see otherwise, we're going to go out there and fight for coach like we always do."
Porter himself made headlines by saying he is unhappy with his contract, which runs through 2007, and only a talk with Cowher persuaded him to come to camp. Cowher said he won't talk about his contract again, and is concerned now only with his team playing better.
"We set very high standards around here, and we didn't get off on the level we all expect to be at," Cowher said.
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