PITTSBURGH — Ever since the Pittsburgh Steelers made Bryant McFadden a second-round draft pick in 2005, the seven-year NFL veteran primarily has been a starting cornerback.
That’s why it was surprising to see McFadden taking reps as a scout team wide receiver during Wednesday’s practice session. It was especially interesting because McFadden has struggled with a right hamstring injury since midway through training camp. He missed the entire preseason, started in the season-opener at Baltimore and re-injured his leg.
“I’m a whole lot better than what I have been, but I’m not quite up to where I need to be as far as being able to play or do game-like activities,” McFadden said. “You see a lot of guys really hurt themselves, like Miles Austin, getting re-injured and missing more time. So, I don’t want that to happen. I just want to continue to improve. (And) I just wanted to do as much running as possible.
“So, that was my idea, playing wideout for the scout team. That allowed me to test it out as much as possible. You know, I could do cuts, turns, breaking and stopping while running routes. So, I’d play defense for a while and then go out on scout team offense. That gave me a better sense of where I am, because you really can’t simulate a game in practice.
“I haven’t been a receiver in a while, but I’ve played there a little bit before,” McFadden added. “That came in handy this week. … So, I feel like I’m close, but it’s better if I take another week, I think. Without the preseason and limited practice time, I played in the Baltimore game and played 50-some snaps and re-tweaked it again. So, I don’t want that to happen. I can’t have that happen.”
When asked if he believed he would be the starter once he is healthy, McFadden couldn’t believe the question and acted surprised that it was asked.
“I don’t know,” McFadden said. “You tell me. Unless there’s something you know that I don’t, I think I’ll start if I’m able to play. … The last few weeks, I’d try to do something and would be really sore the next day.
“Today, I’m not really sore, and that’s after a lot of running (Wednesday). So, that’s very positive. I’m not feeling like I would if I was completely healthy, but it’s not as bad as it was a couple weeks ago. So, I’m getting better.”
Some players have bounced back a lot quicker than McFadden, but others — like Steelers former center Dermontti Dawson — basically had hamstring issues end their career. Current Steelers wideout Jerricho Cotchery has struggled about as long as McFadden has this season with a hamstring injury. Offensive lineman Chris Scott also has battled that problem this year.
“It’s very frustrating, because you want to get out there and participate and then when you’re feeling pretty good, you get out there and re-aggravate it,” McFadden said. “That’s bad, so I’ve seen other guys get hurt that way. I just want to be smart about it, so I’ll keep rehabbing and see where I am next week.
“Jerricho and me, we work with each other and rehab together. We’re just battling together. Chris is a bigger guy, but we have to run around more. And if we’re not 100 percent, it’s a lot tougher for us to do our job than it is for him. So, I’ll be running and rehabbing, and we’ll see where I am next week.”
Ironically, neither Cotchery nor McFadden has been on the Steelers injury report the past two weeks, but they both are likely to be inactive again this week.
Scott confirms lower left ankle sprain
Jonathan Scott confirmed that he has a low left ankle sprain, and while his prognosis was positive he has been limping around all week and is highly unlikely to be activated this week.
“This is one of those injuries where you have to let time take its course,” Scott said. “Rest and rehabilitation, that’s the way to go.
“And with pain-killers and steroids, legal steroids, anything is possible. … I’m always optimistic. When you’ve got the good Lord on your side, you’ve got to have faith. So, I’m at 100 percent in that regard.”
Ike Versus Andre
It seems like the perfect matchup for Steelers this week is to have cornerback Ike Taylor shadow Texans wideout Andre Johnson, who is fourth in the NFL with 21 catches for 316 yards (15-yard average) and two touchdowns. At 6-foot-3 and 226 pounds, Johnson is fast and physical, but a good match for Taylor.
“They target (Johnson) regardless of who’s on him,” Taylor said. “He’s their guy. He’s the man. Like Coach says, he’s one of the best receivers in the game today. He probably doesn’t get the pub because he’s down south. I think if he was in New York he’d be much bigger. But we know how good he is.”
Taylor said that he doesn’t have to lobby Dick LeBeau for him to get one-on-one coverage on Johnson, because the Steelers defensive coordinator knows the cornerback will relish that role. LeBeau believed that Taylor has played at a high level from the outset this season, while safety Troy Polamalu has played well the past two and outside linebacker James Harrison has one in a row.
“I think it was his best game, but some of our timing things are still a little bit off because of what we missed during the offseason,” LeBeau said. “So, I think James is getting back his timing, and that certainly was the best game that he played. It’s all about game speed. All these guys are in great shape.
“But this is our fourth game, so we’re getting there with our timing now. The same could be said about Troy, but I think the last two weeks he’s made an impact on our defense. I don’t think it has anything to do with injuries or anything like that. It’s just a matter of getting our defense timed up.”
With healthy linemen at a premium this week, the Steelers not only could dress all seven this week — activating Chris Scott and Jamon Meredith after they sat out last week — and possibly move up Trevis Turner from the practice squad. Turner, 6-7, 330, played collegiately at Abilene Christian University in Texas.
Scott and Turner were involved in live blocking drills after practice in an apparent attempt to get them ready for the game.
“We were just working on some running plays, getting physical out there,” Turner said. “I’m hoping and praying that I get activated, but I just have to keep working hard to get better every day. They’ll activate me when I’m ready, but whenever they do it’ll be the happiest day of my life. I’m happy where I’m at right now, just trying to learn, but I would love to be on the active roster.
“I think the reason they brought me to their team is how physical and smash-mouth our offense was at ACU. I already have been taught about that stuff, so they want to just refine and improve what I already know. And if I get activated, with me having three sets of twins, I can give them more security. I’m not complaining about the practice squad, because I’m happy to have a job, but being active would mean a lot to me financially as well as personally.”
The Steelers injury list had the same cast with WR Arnaz Battle (knee) and NT Steve McLendon (illness) joining DE Brett Keisel, OG Doug Legursky (left shoulder) and OT Jonathan Scott (left ankle) as being out this week. Rookie OLB Chris Carter (hamstring) was limited Thursday, while WR Mike Wallace (ribs) returned to a full practice.
For the Texans, CB Sherrick McManis (hamstring, RB Derrick Ward (ankle, shoulder) and RB Lawrence Vickers (illness) did not practice Thursday. TE Joel Dreesen (knee), CB Kareem Jackson (knee), WR Andre Johnson (knee, toe), WR Jacoby Jones (knee), WR Kevin Walter (shoulder) and LB Mario Williams (knee) were limited, while RB Arian Foster (hamstring) and LB DeMeco Ryans (knee, elbow) went through a full practice for the second straight day.