WEDNESDAY’S POST-PRACTICE BUZZ
By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Sean Kugler has spent all but one of the past dozen seasons as an assistant coach in the NFL, including the past three with the offensive line for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but that didn’t stop UTEP from hiring Kugler to be the head coach at his alma mater.
News broke about Kugler leaving the Steelers over the weekend, and his official hiring press conference was Monday in El Paso, Texas. He told his players about the decision after their game against the Chargers.
“It was a hard thing to do, to leave these guys, because I love every one of those offensive linemen,” Kugler said, as the team’s O-linemen passed by, practically begging for shout-outs. “But they were all very supportive, and that made me feel a lot better. Anytime you have an opportunity to be a head coach, you have to be intrigued by it, especially at your alma mater.
“Both my sons will be graduated from high school, so the timing for me was right at this time. It’s always special to go back to your alma mater. I played there, and I coached there a long time. I was down there 13 years total. So, it was always a special place for me. (But) there’s no way that I’d leave these guys during the season. They knew that when they interviewed me.
“And that was the first thing that I told them,” Kugler added. “I said I wasn’t leaving this team, and if that keeps me from getting the job it keeps me from getting the job. (So), I’m staying with the Steelers all the way. … I’m working on my staff right now, but my main focus is getting these guys ready for Dallas.”
Kugler’s first recruit for 2013 is North Allegheny High School quarterback Mack Leftwich, who played the past three seasons with the coach’s sons. One graduated two years ago and is at Purdue, while the other graduates in the spring, 2013, and is going to Michigan. Kugler said that they’re happy with their decisions, so he won’t be recruiting them.
Kugler played offensive line at UTEP from 1984-88, under then-offensive line coach Andy Reid. He was a senior on the Miners’ 1988 Independence Bowl squad, the only UTEP team to go to a bowl between 1967-2000. Bob Stull was UTEP’s head coach while Kugler played and now Stull is the Miners’ athletic director. He also was a GA and assistant coach at UTEP from 1993-2000.
Maintaining OL theme
It appears that the Steelers will have two rookies starting on their offensive line this week, as No. 1 pick David DeCastro joined the group at right guard next to seventh-rounder Kelvin Beachum at right tackle.
“David’s doing a nice job,” Kugler said. “He’s coming around each day, and he’s worked really hard to get back to where he’s at right now.”
DeCastro saw his first playing time in the regular season last week on the field-goal unit, but he believed he was ready to take a step up to starter this week.
“You know your body really well, and you know what you can and can’t do,” DeCastro said. “The past couple weeks in practice, I had gotten a lot better each time out there, and I’m ready to go this week. (But) they just tell me where to play, and I do it. So, I’ll be out there at right guard.
“I was able to get through the past couple weeks in practice without any problems with my knee, so I guess you just get more comfortable all the time. So, I’m extremely confident that I’m 100 percent healthy now. (And) it was great to get out there on the field-goal unit last week.”
Woodley ready to go, too?
After missing two games with an ankle injury, outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley has stepped up his practice regimen and expected to play at Dallas.
“I did everything today,” Woodley said. “I practiced the whole time, the individual work and every team period. So, I was out there the entire time. It’s always tough watching from the sideline, but you also can do a lot. I felt like I was a player-coach, working with Jason Worilds and helping my teammates with the things that I saw out there from the sideline.”
Since the Steelers have health and a lack of experience issues at cornerback this week, he was asked if he had any eligibility left.
“No, I don’t,” Steelers Hall-of-Famer Mel Blount said, “and I’m too old and too slow anyway (even though he appeared to be in great shape at age 64).”
Any similarities to the last time you guys were in Dallas?
“It’s pretty much a different situation in a lot of ways, considering that we’re a different team, it’s not the Super Bowl and we’re playing the Dallas Cowboys this time,” Steelers offensive lineman Doug Legursky said. “Other than that … the stadium is the same. That’s about it.”
“(Romo) plays for quote, unquote America’s Team, right? Well, I think the Steelers are the World’s Team,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said.
Are you concerned about Mike Wallace’s focus this week? No, was the response before the question was even completed. Did you talk with him at halftime?
“I laid into the whole offense, not just Mike, because the way we played I think we all deserved to get booed,” Roethlisberger added.
Woodley (ankle) was the only injured player to participate in a complete practice. A large contingent sat out Wednesday’s workout, including OT Mike Adams (ankle), CB Cortez Allen (groin), OG Willie Colon (knee), OLB James Harrison (illness), CB Keenan Lewis (hip), SS Troy Polamalu (not injury related), WR Emmanuel Sanders (shoulder) and CB Ike Taylor (ankle).
OG Ryan Cook (knee), RB Felix Jones (knee) and OT Tyron Smith (ankle) all got through a full practice for the Cowboys, but WR Dez Bryant (finger), CB Morris Claiborne (concussion), OG Nate Livings (concussion), RB DeMarco Murray (foot), S Charlie Peprah (foot), NT Jay Ratliff (groin) and OLB DeMarcus Ware (elbow) did not practice Wednesday.