Growing oh-so tired of Anthony Smith

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The Philadelphia Eagles let Donovan McNabb play through two possessions last night at Heinz Field, one more than the Steelers risked with Ben Roethlisberger and one less than ultimately was prudent for Charlie Batch.

There is no thinner coaching tightrope than preseason football, when careful, calculating men like Mike Tomlin and Andy Reid inch from one platform to another across a 100 X 53-yard pit of fire.

Four times. Five if you're unlucky.

Sometimes it seems the whole purpose of this interminable NFL August is to arrive at September with some semblance of the roster with which you started training camp. The volatile mix of semi-bored veterans, confused and skittish rookies, and desperate, borderline psychotic free agents is potentially disastrous from the standpoint of what polite company calls wellness.

So there was Batch, kneeling in front of Steelers trainer John Norwig in the second quarter, feeling like an anvil had fallen on his throwing shoulder. Forced to run on a broken play resulting from an apparent miscommunication with running back Mewelde Moore, Batch was smacked by Eagles safety Sean Considine, who fracturing the right collarbone of the one of the league's top backup passers.

Frightening as that was for Pittsburgh's quarterback depth, the more pivotal collision in the near term might have been the leg injury to rookie safety Ryan Mundy earlier in this first preseason game.

If Mundy isn't unavailable to backup starters Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu, it will delay and perhaps even prevent the Steelers from making the one personnel move most called for after two weeks of camp and four quarters of approximate football: ridding themselves of Anthony Smith.

Last seen preening over the crumpled form of Hines Ward on a St. Vincent lawn 48 hours earlier, Smith was on the sidelines last night in street clothes and a backward visor, ostensibly the sufferer of a groin injury that somehow didn't keep him out of practice Wednesday afternoon, even after Tomlin had declared him unavailable for the Eagles appointment.

If you can't get through a preseason game with any expectation of avoiding serious injury, you should at least be able to get through a practice without having to watch your four-time All Pro receiver and the competitive soul of the offense absorb a bone-rattling cheap shot from the notorious Smith.

Smith will be 25 years old on Sept. 20, but continues to back pedal from maturity faster than if he's covering Terrell Owens.

It was one thing for Bill Cowher to attribute to inexperience Smith's embarrassing rookie performance at Carolina, in which defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau practically dragged him off the field at the end of a ridiculous high-stepping interception return.

It was another when Tomlin scolded the media for paying any attention to him when Smith predicted a victory at unbeaten New England last December, a severe stupidity spasm that earned him a pat on the head and a severe toasting by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

But this week's training camp thuggery at the expense of one of the franchise's most decorated veterans smells to me like strike three. There was a time in Smith's alleged development when his wealth of athleticism and general disregard for the safety of himself and opponents was thought to be manageable by a veteran coaching staff. But Smith just doesn't listen.

After the Wednesday collision with Ward, who'd personally scolded Smith last year at Latrobe when Smith nearly took Willie Reid's head off in a drill, LeBeau walked from his usual station behind the offense all the way over to where Smith was sitting on his helmet. Whatever the esteemed defensive coordinator said to the third-year underachiever out of Syracuse, the player never altered his gaze nor acknowledged the coach.

Tomlin did not go into his second training camp as a big fan of Anthony Smith and will admit to a certain distaste for safeties who let opponents get behind them, but after Wednesday, I couldn't figure out why Smith should be allowed back on the field with this team.

The reason temporarily might be Mundy's less than satisfying debut last night. A sixth-round draft choice out of West Virginia via Michigan via Woodland Hills, Mundy made consecutive tackles on two McNabb completions at the end of the first quarter. Problem was, the completions netted 40 yards and Philly's DeSean Jackson made the second one with Mundy looking a little too much like a spectator, drawing a brief lecture from Tomlin. Four plays later, Mundy tackled Lorenzo Booker after a six yard gain, needed to be helped to his feet, and went off in a slow wobble.

Waning depth at safety will likely keep Anthony Smith around for awhile, which just as likely means, again, somebody's going to get hurt. If I know Hines Ward, it might be Anthony Smith.


Gene Collier can be reached at gcollier@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1283.


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