Notebook: Cowher blunt

Notebook: Cowher blunt

LATROBE – Bill Cowher was uncharacteristically frank about some of his players at yesterday's press conference. Some examples:

• "Nate Washington right now has been the one (receiver) who's been the most consistent player. … He's been very, very consistent."

• "I thought Casey (Hampton) at times, to his own admission was a bit tentative out there. (Monday night's game) was his first contact."

• "Trai (Essex) flashed. He did a very good job in pass protection. I'd like to see him do a better job run blocking."

• "I think Ike Taylor is a more focused, more mature player. Willie (Williams) and Deshea (Townsend) have had very solid camps, but Ike Taylor is pushing."

RUNNING GAME(S)

Cowher said Jerome Bettis would open the season as the starting running back if Duce Staley isn't healthy. But …

"We're going to be spelling Jerome," Cowher said. "We're not going to wear him out early in the season."

Cowher hasn't decided which of the remaining running backs would fill the role of passing-downs back. Willie Parker, Cowher said, is competing to unseat Verron Haynes in that role.

Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt was asked if he has a plan for getting Parker the ball.

"I think he can be a first, second and a third-down back," Whisenhunt said. "In the next couple of games we have to expand his role and see how he handles everything. The only way you can find out about Willie is to continue playing him. You can't plan anything for him; you just call your offense. He's watched Jerome. He knows how to hit it up inside like a power back; he's learning how to do that. And certainly he can go outside."

CENTER OF ATTENTION

Chukky Okobi also drew praise from Cowher, who liked the way his fifth-year veteran buried Philadelphia's middle linebacker on Parker's first-half touchdown run. Cowher also appreciates the way Okobi works with the rookies on the second-team line.

"They built a comfort level going against our defense," Okobi said of Essex and Chris Kemoeatu. "All of the sudden, they were going against guys they didn't know and they're playing a defense they're not used to. In those situations, your techniques go to hell and you forget the little things. I just tried to keep them calm, keep the anxiety down. They didn't ask me. I just put out the fire before it started because I've been there."

Okobi says he's restless for playing time, but understands Jeff Hartings is coming off a Pro Bowl season.

"That's the story of my career but I've got no complaints," he said. "I've got a great player in front of me and I'm in the city I'm from, playing for the team I always cheered for. It's a gift and a curse. If I'm lucky, I'll get those years back on the other end."

OWN WORST CRITIC

Tight end Matt Kranchick made a big catch for 27 yards on a third-and-15 play, but he wasn't satisfied.

"I wasn't happy with my blocking," he said. "I thought I could've done a lot better. I got blown up on a play, but I had good effort. The couple mistakes I made were technique things and I'll work on them and get better next game."

The 6-foot-7 former wide receiver has given a more determined effort in blocking drills the last two days.

"I'm going to get better at it," he said. "I went back and watched it on tape. It's a situation where we've been playing against a lot of 3-4s, but they had their hands on the ground -- Hugh Douglas, Jevon Kearse, guys like that who are pretty good football players. We haven't had a lot of experience against that. I wasn't ready for it and I didn't do a very good job. But I'll come back this week against the same type of defense and I'll do better."

Kranchick said he's close to 270 pounds but hasn't lost any quickness.

"I like it. I can still move. I can still get open. That'll never be a problem," he said.

KEN ON BEN

Whisenhunt on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger:

"The biggest positive with Ben is game management; how he handled the huddle and how he did things in the game. He was smart with the ball, especially coming off the goal line. It was much better than his first play as a starter last year against Miami when he threw the interception. As far as seeing the field and understanding what's going on, especially how he handled the huddle, he's getting better every day."

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