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Steelers QB Looking for Support in First NFL Start

August 29, 1996

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) _ Jim Miller has come up with a conservative game plan for his first NFL start: Stay out of the way.

``I’m not a guy who has to carry this team,″ said the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback. ``I’ve got a good running game, good receivers and a good offensive line. I’ve just got to believe I don’t have to do anything.″

Making your debut for the AFC champion has its advantages.

When they open the season Sunday at the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Steelers won’t be the same team that tested Dallas in the Super Bowl seven months ago. They won’t be chopped liver, either.

Running back Bam Morris, let go after his drug arrest, has been replaced by another bruiser in Jerome Bettis. The Steelers lost guard Tom Newberry to retirement and right tackle Leon Searcy to the Jaguars, but signed former Pro Bowl lineman Will Wilford.

The biggest change is at quarterback, where Neil O’Donnell followed free agency to the New York Jets. That’s where Miller comes in.

He won the starting job over Kordell Stewart, the fans’ choice, and Mike Tomczak, the 11-year veteran, because of what coach Bill Cowher called a ``gut feeling.″

He has all of three quarters of NFL experience, which would seem to give the Jaguars ample reason to feel they are catching the Steelers at the perfect time.

``They’ve got a new quarterback, but it’s a system where the quarterback complements the system,″ said John Jurkovic, one of four new starters on defense for the Jaguars. ``The whole offense doesn’t rely totally on the quarterback. What they ask the quarterback to do is hit the open passes, hand the ball off to the running back and don’t make too many mistakes.″

Unless, of course, the quarterback happens to be Stewart.

Cowher talked about roles when he named Miller as the starter _ Tomczak will be the backup and Stewart ``will do his thing,″ which could be just about anything.

It was in a 24-7 win over the Jaguars last year when Kordell became Slash Stewart and the Steelers began their run to the Super Bowl.

``That’s what he was meant to do, to cause problems for the defense,″ Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin said. ``You do have to prepare for it, whatever role he shows up in.″

Cowher isn’t providing much of a clue: ``You’ll see him often _ everywhere,″ he said.

Even so, most of the attention figures to be on Miller, a third-year pro out of Michigan State who broke his right thumb during his rookie training camp and broke his right wrist while playing for Frankfurt of the World League.

``I’m excited about it,″ Miller said of his first start. ``I just want to go out and make good decisions. I’m such a young quarterback in this league and we have a lot of veterans on this team. I want to prove myself to these guys and gain their respect.″

Coughlin has seen enough of him on tape to think Cowher has made the right decision.

But along with Miller making his debut, defensive end Ray Seals, who had 8 1/2 sacks last year, is out for the year with a torn rotator cuff. Defensive end Brentson Bucker is questionable with a knee injury.

Coughlin bristles at the notion the Jaguars have got Pittsburgh right where they want them.

``I don’t buy any of that,″ he said. ``They’re champions of their conference. Their defensive football team is powerful and forceful, and their offense has shown the ability to do things. Everybody has got their problems. Everybody is nicked to a certain extent.″

The Jaguars’ nick is left tackle Tony Boselli’s ankle, which he sprained against the 49ers two weeks ago. He was in full pads by midweek and should play Sunday.

Natrone Means had surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb on Monday and could be out two weeks. That puts the onus on second-year running back James Stewart, who hasn’t carried the ball more than 20 times a game since he was at Tennessee.

And quarterback Mark Brunell will get his share of attention. Even though he has Andre Rison and Keenan McCardell to throw to this year, he still has been the Jaguars’ most effective runner.

``There are some things we’re still trying to become efficient at, but it’s time for us to play,″ Coughlin said. ``Offensively, I would like to be doing some phases of our game a little better than we were in the preseason. That’s going to come.″

For Release Sunday, Sept. 1

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