Steelers Pass Problems Not in Past

Wednesday, July 26th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LATROBE, Pa. (AP) — Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher probably wouldn't feel so exasperated if he hadn't seen this time and again the last two seasons. And again. And again.

Overthrown passes. Interceptions. Indecision. Inconsistency.

Only 10 days into training camp, it is evident the problems that persisted in the Steelers' passing game the last two seasons haven't been solved by a six-month layoff, another offseason of tutoring in coordinator Kevin Gilbride's system or the addition of rookie receiver Plaxico Burress.

An overall lethargy and discernible lack of progress in practice are evident in a team that has won only 13 games the last two seasons, and Cowher senses it. He wasn't happy at all with a raggedy practice Tuesday in which Kordell Stewart and Kent Graham threw interceptions and the offense never did click.

It looked like an uninspired practice by a tired team three-quarters of the way through a season, not one that was still on vacation less than two weeks ago.

``It was a spotty practice at best,'' Cowher said.

Is Cowher running out of patience?

``I lose patience every day I'm out here,'' Cowher said. ``Some guys take a step forward and some take a step back. We're a young team, but we can't allow that to be an excuse. It's not acceptable.''

Cowher wouldn't criticize any quarterback by name, but it is obvious he is growing frustrated by the lack of progress by an offense that was one of the league's worst last season and hasn't looked much better this summer.

``It's not so much the mistakes, it's the execution that's been up and down,'' Cowher said. ``It's one thing when you're not sure what you're doing, but this is more from an execution standpoint. As a coach, you have to address that.''

Coming off consecutive losing seasons that have left his job status in doubt beyond this season, Cowher likely won't wait until the 11th week of the season to bench Stewart if the offense struggles, as he did last season. He might not wait until the Sept. 3 opener against Baltimore.

But while Stewart has been erratic, quarterbacks Anthony Wright and Tee Martin have been no better. Wright, the second-year pro from South Carolina, has not displayed the strong arm he did in camp last season and Martin, the rookie from Tennessee, looks lost in an offense he does not yet know.

Graham, the former Giants starter who has spent only a few months in Gilbride's system since signing as a free agent, has looked the best of the four quarterbacks.

How Graham plays in the five exhibition games, beginning Sunday in Dallas, may determine if Cowher opens up the quarterback's job or stays with Stewart as the starter, as was the game plan before camp began.

So far, however, this camp has been a misadventure in quarterbacking, with enough mistakes to make up a lengthy blooper tape.

On Monday, Martin lost a snap from center while lined up in the shotgun. Cornerback Chad Scott, blitzing on the play, picked up the loose ball in stride and kicked it onto a hillside.

``Guys are trying to play well, but when you're not all on the same page, that's when things start to look crazy,'' Stewart said.

Stewart, whose career with the Steelers is clearly on the line this season, wasn't as disappointed as his coach with Tuesday's practice. Still, he acknowledged he isn't entirely comfortable in Gilbride's offense.

``I'm still learning,'' he said. ``I still don't have all the answers.''

Cowher doesn't, either, and he must be wondering if he ever will.

``It's one good practice, one bad practice ... one good practice, two bad practices,'' he said. ``We've got to get more consistent.''

Notes: The Steelers will hold a night practice Wednesday at Latrobe High School. ... Left tackle Wayne Gandy limped off the field after a defender rolled across his leg, but apparently did not sprain his ankle. Cowher expects him to practice Wednesday. ... WR Troy Edwards (hamstring) is catching balls from a throwing machine but is not yet ready to return to practice. ... Stewart isn't ready to proclaim himself as the starter, saying, ``I'll leave that up to the coaches.''