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Tuesday, July 17
Updated: August 2, 2:49 PM ET
Steelers: Eyeing the playoffs

By Mark Cannizzaro
Special to

After being a perennial playoff team with a proud tradition, the Steelers have become somewhat of a joke the last three playoff-less years, though they did show some improvement from consecutive 7-9 and 6-10 seasons with a 9-7 showing last year.

 Bill Cowher
Bill Cowher signed a contract extension through 2005.
  Location:St. Vincent College, Latrobe, Pa.
Rookies report: July 19
Veterans report: July 19
Preseason schedule:
 Aug. 3: at Atlanta
 Aug. 16: at Minnesota
 Aug. 25: Detroit
 Aug. 30: Buffalo

Big changes were made, with defensive captain, linebacker Levon Kirkland released for salary cap reasons and offensive captain, center Dermontti Dawson, was also let go because of the cap, his age and injuries. Whether these changes translate into a first playoff season in four years remains to be seen.

Man in the spotlight
Head coach Bill Cowher has to be in the spotlight considering the goings on of the last three seasons. On the field, though, quarterback Kordell Stewart always has the spotlight on him. He had a decent year in 2000, going 7-4 as the starter and winning back his teammates and the fans.

Key position battle
In an attempt to fill the shoes of Kirkland at inside linebacker, Mike Jones and Kendrell Bell will fight for the starting spot. Both are very speedy players. Jones, a free agent pick-up from the Rams is best known for making that Super Bowl-saving tackle in the final seconds against Tennessee two years ago.

Biggest adjustment
Will Plaxico Burress, the No. 1 pick receiver from a year ago, finally adjust to the NFL in his sophomore year as a pro? Burress was a bust last year. He needs to work harder and mature to make the proper transition from college to pro, because the things he got away with in college don't fly in the NFL.

Rookie report
Bell, the Georgia linebacker who's vying for the inside linebacker starting job, was a second-round pick. Texas nose tackle Casey Hampton, the Steelers' top pick, is expected to start immediately.

Offseason moves
Players signed Players lost
RB Jerome Bettis (re-signed)
FB Jon Witman (re-signed)
FB Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala (re-signed)
C Dermontti Dawson (released)
DE Kevin Henry (released)
LB Levon Kirkland (signed with Seahawks)
Steelers' complete offseason moves

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