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Cowher not a happy camper

July 30, 1997

LATROBE, Pa. (AP) _ Coach Bill Cowher wants to turn up the heat on the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have spent most of training camp on a European vacation.

The weather _ and the Steelers’ peculiar camp schedule _ won’t let him.

``We’re sluggish. We need to pick it up. We’ve got to get back into the rigors of this thing,″ Cowher said Tuesday following the Steelers’ first practice in the continental United States in eight days. ``We’ve got only three weeks left of this thing, and we’ve got a lot of work to do.″

Mostly, he wants a little heat. The Steelers apparently brought back some Irish weather with them from their week-long stay in Dublin, with practice temperatures Tuesday reaching only the high 70s _ 20 degrees less than when the Steelers began camp two weeks ago.

``I’d like it hotter ... a lot hotter,″ Cowher said.

Also, he would like to get back into the training camp routine that NFL coaches cherish as much as a first-round draft pick. The Steelers’ full squad was together for only three practices before the Ireland trip, and one of those was devoted to a mostly rookies scrimmage against the Washington Redskins. A rainstorm forced another practice into a gymnasium.

Traveling to Ireland permitted the Steelers to spend three days practicing against another NFL team, but the actual time devoted to football was considerably less than normal during training camp.

Bears coach Dave Wannstedt tried to stick to a two-a-day practice schedule before Chicago’s 30-17 exhibition loss to Pittsburgh. But the Steelers treated the week almost like a holiday, devoting considerable time to sightseeing, pub-visiting and, in Greg Lloyd’s case, alienating some of the Irish population.

Wannstedt asked if the Steelers would also practice twice a day, but Cowher, unwillingly to disrupt a trip that Steelers president Dan Rooney spent a decade planning, politely declined.

Now, just when the Steelers should be settling back into the mechanics of camp, they must leave again Friday for Saturday’s exhibition game in Kansas City.

Hey, whatever happened to training camp?

``And we probably won’t play much in that game, maybe a quarter or a little longer,″ running back Jerome Bettis said of the Steelers’ starters.

``We need to work on getting our timing back, but it’s a short week after a long trip,″ All-Pro center Dermontti Dawson said.

The shorter-than-usual camp _ the Steelers will leave Latrobe on Aug. 16, the day before their final home exhibition game _ is putting even more pressure on the players who are trying to win a spot on the roster. As a result, more roster spots than normal will likely be decided in the exhibition games than on the practice field.

San Diego State rookie George Jones, for example, took a perceptible lead in the race to be Bettis’ backup by rushing for 84 yards and two touchdowns against the Bears. And second-year pro Earl Holmes may have gained in his bid to oust incumbent inside linebacker Jerry Olsavsky.

Jones is competing with Terry Richardson, who was on the Steelers’ roster late last season; Bobby Phillips, a World League star; and Fred McAfee, who will miss at least two weeks with an injured shoulder. McAfee, however, is the Steelers’ special teams captain and will likely make the team even if he doesn’t succeed Erric Pegram as Bettis’ top replacement.

``The extra exhibition game is good from an evaluation standpoint,″ Cowher said. ``So there’s not much time for anybody to feel sorry for themselves.″

Among those missing practice with various injuries were McAfee, offensive tackle John Jackson, defensive end Israel Raybon and linebacker Eric Ravotti. Also, rookie defensive lineman Marcus Evers, a free agent from Clark College, voluntarily left camp after meeting with Cowher. Evers’ reasons for leaving were not disclosed.

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