Prep-ping for Sunday

9-17-03, 6:25 p.m. Updated:
9-18-03, 7:15 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Steelers head coach Bill Cowher, the first man to hire Marvin Lewis for a NFL job 11 years ago, has seen the Bengals' tape and there are no surprises. Cowher has a 16-6 edge on the Bengals since he arrived in Pittsburgh in that 1992 season, and one of the reasons the Bengals hired Lewis is to have some of that Steeler magic rub off.

"No question that they are playing with a competitive and a resolve you knew he would get players to play that way," Cowher said from Pittsburgh Wednesday. "Their game last week was very impressive. . .To go into Oakland and play them the way they did and have every opportunity to win it is very impressive. . . If you look at where Marvin's been and how he earned the opportunity he's been given, he's proven at each opportunity that he'll excel at it."

Lewis coached Cowher's linebackers for four seasons before becoming the Ravens' defensive coordinator, and he acknowledged Wednesday with his signature chuckle, "It's obviously special. I wouldn't be here had it not been for Bill, and I don't want to disappoint him."

They played against each other in high school (Lewis at Fort Cherry and Cowher at Carlynton) and here is the scouting report on each other:

Lewis: "Bill was a very intense player, just like you see on the sideline now. He was the middle linebacker and offensive center. Rumor has it that he used to foam at the mouth some."

Cowher, whose team lost to Fort Cherry in '74: "Your senior year is the last time so that's the one you remember. Marvin's got one up on us. He was a good player. He's still with the opposition, I'm not giving him too much credit."

They are just two of five NFL head coaches from Pittsburgh, along with New Orleans' Jim Haslett, Miami's Dave Wannstedt, and San Diego's Marty Schottenheimer. In fact, Schottenheimer and Lewis were born on the same day Sept. 23 15 years apart and played for the same coach (Jim Garry) at the same high school.

"I would say probably all of us growing up played a lot of sports , and played a number of positions, probably learned the fundamentals of the game from the ground up," Lewis said. "I know Marty and I played for a very fine person and a very fine coach, who taught us not only about football, but as a person, and he treated people that way. Bill played for a very similar coach. I'm not familiar with Dave or Jim and their situations. So there are a lot of common things

Cowher thinks it has something to do with the fundamentals and an early start.

"No. 1, football is held in very high esteem in Pittsburgh," Cowher said. "People take a lot of pride within your community. It's a lot like the NFL here. People identify with it here with the high schools. You have high school coaches who go way back.You learn at an earlier age how to compete and how to work and appreciate the opportunity when given."

SLANTS AND SCREENS: Chick Ludwig of "The Dayton Daily News," churned out a good fact Wednesday. In 11 NFL seasons, no Marvin Lewis team has started 0-3. The '93 Steelers, who finished 9-7 and made the playoffs, and the '99 Ravens, who went 8-8, came the closest at 0-2.

Some more Marv: Lewis' Baltimore teams went 4-9 against Bill Cowher's Steelers after he left Pittsburgh following the 1995 season until he went to Washington for 2002. In that same stretch, the Bengals were 5-7. His Raven defenses allowed the Steelers 21.7 points per game while the Bengals were surrendering 22.8.

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HAPPY COACH:** Marvin Lewis' high school coach, former Fort Cherry head man Jim Garry, said Wednesday night he won't make the trip for Sunday's game but he may check it out when the Bengals go to Pittsburgh Nov. 30. This is the first year in four decades he hasn't been the head coach, but he is helping out the son that succeeded him.

His take on Lewis and Steelers coach Bill Cowher as high school players: "Both hard-nosed kids."

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QUICK HITS:** Word out of Pittsburgh after practice Wednesday is that Steelers Pro Bowl linebacker Joey Porter worked the entire session and is now expected to start Sunday. . .

Bengals RB Corey Dillon, who didn't practice in Wednesday's shoulder pads and shorts practice, is probable with his hyperextended knee.

"It's a no-doubter," said Dillon, when asked if he'll play. . .

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis ruled WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh (hamstring) out of Sunday's game for the third straight week. . .Also out is LB Riall Johnson (calf). RB Rudi Johnson (thigh) and OL Victor Leyva (chest) have been upgraded to questionable and both dressed for a practice for the first time Wednesday since the pre-season finale. . . .TE Matt Schobel (hamstring) is also questionable. He didn't wear shoulder pads, but did get some work in Wednesday. . .CB Tory James didn't work Wednesday because of a sudden illness, but is expected to be fine Sunday. . .

CHANGING TIMES: Along with being mainstays of their respective units for years, Bengals defensive tackle Oliver Gibson and Steelers running back Jerome Bettis are good friends. They have to find it odd coming into a Bengals-Steelers game in which Gibson played just five snaps the previous Sunday in a reserve role and Bettis, the NFL's No. 10 all-time rusher, has just eight carries for 21 yards in the first two games backing up Amos Zereoue.

But Gibson knows Bettis has 10 100-yard rushing games against the Bengals and is averaging nearly 105 yards per game in his 14 games against them, the most he has played against any team since he came into the league in 1993.

"I haven't talked to him since the so-called benching," Gibson said. "I just know in games of this nature, especially against a team like us, you bring in your big horses. Especially in a division game as important as this. Let's face it. The Steelers think they can get this one. They think they can, so they need to pull out all the stops. I know Jerome is going to be a feature part of this game."

Gibson, who played his first four seasons in Pittsburgh, hopes he is, too, but he admits it's tough for him to adjust to a No. 2 role after making 57 straight starts before going down last year with a torn Achilles.'

"I'm playing my role. My role is to rotate in as they see fit," Gibson said. "Is it frustrating? You know me. But whatever role they ask me to perform, I'll perform it. (Against Pittsburgh) I want to play the whole game, but that's not going to happen. This is pro football. You have to go with the bumps and the bruises and the highs and the lows."

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