NFL preseason rolls along

PITTSBURGH – The starters will play only a couple of series when the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers open their exhibition schedules Thursday night.

The players probably are pleased they won’t stay on the field too long.

Neither team has pleasant memories of its last appearance at Heinz Field, a venue that proved to be tricky and, at times, inhospitable in its first season – and not just to visiting teams.

The Steelers were 8-2 in their new riverfront home. Both losses, including their 24-17 upset loss to New England in the AFC championship game, were partly the result of kicker Kris Brown’s failures in new surroundings.

Brown missed 14 field goal attempts, the most by any NFL kicker in 10 years, with 10 misses coming at Heinz Field. The swirling winds and a sandy turf there created unpredictable conditions, and opposing kickers went only 3-of-9.

It’s no wonder that Brown signed with the expansion Houston Texans rather than return to the Steelers, prompting coach Bill Cowher to say, ”Heinz Field has claimed a kicker.”

The new Steelers kicker, Todd Peterson, is eager to try out his new home and see whether it’s as fearsome as he’s heard, even if the cold, confidence-deflating winds are months away.

”The best thing I can do in my mind is to get familiar with it, if it is a bad place to kick,” Peterson said.

The Jets lost there, 18-7 Dec. 9, even though the Steelers were without injured running back Jerome Bettis, and went on to finish 10-6, losing a wild-card game in Oakland.

This time, the Jets’ starters will be in, then out – no muss, no fuss and no worry that a loss might turn their season around in the wrong way.

”We want to make sure we get all our young players in the game and watch them play,” Jets coach Herm Edwards said. ”Bill generally handles preseason games the way we do: See your young players play and don’t confuse them.”

The Steelers’ starters will be on the field only long enough for Bettis to show he’s over the groin injury that sidelined him for all but a few plays over the final two months of the season.

After Bettis, Kordell Stewart and the others leave, the Steelers plan to play their other three quarterbacks, with Tommy Maddox following Stewart and playing the rest of the first half.

Charlie Batch is expected to start the third quarter, followed by Tee Martin.

Jets’ starter Vinny Testaverde will get in only long enough to take a few snaps before turning the offense over to Chad Pennington.

Both first-round draft picks, Steelers right guard Kendall Simmons and Jets defensive end Bryan Thomas, should play a lot. Thomas could get some extra snaps because All-Pro lineman John Abraham is out until at least the season opener with a knee injury.

Edwards also wants to see Santana Moss, the 1991 first-round receiver who was injured most of last year. Cowher wants to try out a reconfigured dime defense that now keeps last year’s NFL defensive rookie of the year, linebacker Kendrell Bell, on the field.

James Farrior, the Jets’ leading tackler last season, also will line-up against his former team, although he won’t start for Pittsburgh.

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