By Joe Rutter
Friday, August 11, 2006
Ricardo Colclough had enough drops in practice that he may not handle kickoffs in the Steelers' exhibition opener against Arizona. He had enough muffs to keep him off the punt-return unit, too.
While second-year cornerback Bryant McFadden is pushing Deshea Townsend for a starting job, Colclough will head into his third NFL season firmly entrenched as the backup behind left corner Ike Taylor.
So, what was coach Bill Cowher doing praising Colclough and his training-camp contributions Thursday morning?
"He has competed very well, and he has started camp very well," Cowher said. "He obviously put too many balls on the ground catching punts, and I don't like to see that. But I like the way he's been out there. He's had a more consistent camp than he's had in years past.
"I'd like to see that translate into games. That will be a telling sign."
In his first audition Saturday, Colclough apparently will be limited to the defensive backfield. Cowher said yesterday that rookies Willie Reid and Santonio Holmes will be handling kickoff and punt returns.
Colclough returned 48 kickoffs in his first two seasons. He has only one career punt return, but he was the Steelers' first option behind Antwaan Randle El.
This year, it seems, Colclough will be given a chance to embrace a larger role in the Steelers' defense. Last year, he was used occasionally in passing-down packages.
"I'm hoping for better things, but I don't know what the role is for me," Colclough said. "I'll leave that in the hands of the coaches. I know they'll make the right decision."
In 2004, after drafting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the first round, the Steelers used their second pick -- the 38th overall selection -- to take Colclough out of tiny Tusculum College in Greeneville, Tenn.
That was a year after Taylor was drafted in the fourth round out of a similarly small school -- Louisiana-Lafayette -- and a year before the Steelers plucked McFadden out of Florida State.
Taylor earned a starting job in his third season, and McFadden is poised to do it in his second. Colclough remains a backup, although that could change next season if Taylor departs via free agency.
Colclough is aware of what's at stake. He prepped for training camp by working out with a personal trainer in Orlando, Fla.
"That's why I came into this camp trying to position myself for better things," he said. "This is definitely an important year for me. It's my third year, and people are expecting big things from me. So am I. I have to go out there and do the things everyone expects me to do."
Like Cowher, defensive backs coach Darren Perry has also seen Colclough make progress during training camp.
"He has been a lot more consistent," Perry said. "He's still not there yet, and I'm sure he'll be the first to tell you that. But he's made tremendous strides from where he was last year at this point. He knows what we're looking for in terms of consistency, and he's working hard to do that."
Perry rattled off a list of areas in which Colclough has improved.
"Mental preparation, technique, focusing on every snap, finishing plays," he said. "It's attention to detail, the little things and understanding how to be a professional cornerback in this league as far as not breaking a play off and really going after it snap after snap and not having any mental lapses."
Colclough said he has a better grasp of the Steelers' defense than he did during his first two training camps.
"I know it pretty good this year and can concentrate on going out, working on my technique and playing football," he said.