Steelers coach Bill Cowher and director of football operations Kevin Colbert have managed the salary cap so well that the team has good depth at three key positions — running back, rush end and middle linebacker in the dime defense.
Cowher pointed out that cap considerations “will eventually” have an effect on those positions.
“But those are issues you deal with in the offseason,” he said.
Meanwhile, Cowher has to figure out how to juggle running backs Amos Zereoue, Jerome Bettis and Verron Haynes and linebackers Joey Porter, Kendrell Bell, James Farrior and Clark Haggans.
“We’re going to continue to use them all,” he said. “I don’t know how it’s going to unfold. These are good problems to have, potential issues, if you want to make them that. But I like to look at them as nice problems to have. We’ll try to keep everyone happy and as long as you win games, everyone is happy.”
Cowher didn’t use Bettis in Cincinnati until Zereoue said he was tired in the third quarter. They each ended up with 16 carries. When Bettis enters the game Sunday against the Tennessee Titans is anyone’s guess. Even Cowher said he doesn’t know.
“It remains a situational thing,” he said. “I don’t want to say anything that will mislead anybody, players included. You like to think it’s going to work out so they get 16 or 17 (carries) each week, but it will not. It will not be that way.
“We cannot keep yanking guys in and out and have them lose that feel for the game. There’s a fine line you have to balance, and at some point, I’m going to get criticized for not walking that line very well. It’s inevitable.”
Cowher said Farrior has played well in place of Porter, who returned last Sunday from his gunshot wound. Porter is still the No. 1 middle linebacker in the dime and will practice there this week, Cowher said.
After three games, Haynes is the only player listed as questionable on the injury report.
“He is getting better,” Cowher said. “We’ll see if he’s able to practice Thursday.”
Six players are probable: Backup cornerback Chidi Iwuoma (concussion), offensive tackle Marvel Smith (shoulder), center Jeff Hartings (ankle), backup safety Chris Hope (groin) and tight ends Jay Riemersma and Jerame Tuman (chest).
Cowher said what All-Pro guard Alan Faneca did Sunday what is considered rare for an offensive lineman.
“Usually linemen don’t stand out,” Cowher said. “He stood out. He had two blocks that I don’t think I had seen in a long time in this league.
“We nominated him for (NFL) offensive player of the week. I’ve never seen a game by an offensive lineman any better than that. Those two hits were impressive.”
Cowher was referring to Faneca’s hits on Bengals linebacker Adrian Ross.
Rookie No. 1 draft pick Troy Polamalu has been critical of his performance so far this season, but Cowher doesn’t agree with him.
“I think Troy is doing fine. People are saying what’s wrong with him, he’s not starting, No. 1 pick.”
The reason for Polamalu not starting, Cowher said, is that, “(Starting strong safety) Mike Logan is playing pretty good.”
Polamalu, who plays in the nickel and dime defensive packages, said he was responsible for Bengals wide receiver Peter Warrick’s touchdown.
“He had a tough day the other day,” Cowher said, “but that’s to be expected. I love the kid’s mindset. I love the way he works at it. He’s a very proud kid.”
NOTHING FOR JOEY
Cowher wasn’t happy with linebacker Jason Gildon lateraling to Porter after an interception deep in Steelers territory.
“You don’t do that down there,” Cowher said. “Not when you have a chance to get off the field. I know Joey just got back and everyone is welcoming him back and he thinks everyone is supposed to listen to him and he says, ‘Gimme the ball, gimme the ball.’
“You just ignore Joey in those situations and you go down.”
Cowher said the poor turf at Paul Brown Stadium robbed kick returner Ike Taylor of a touchdown in the first quarter. Bengals returners Warrick and Brandon Bennett also slipped down after long returns, but they would have been tackled, anyway, Cowher said.
“Ike wasn’t touched. He’s going to make the kicker miss, but his foot came out underneath him. The turf saved (the Bengals) a touchdown.”