The Sunday night spotlight in Denver no doubt will shine brightly on Peyton Manning's debut, but the air of Tim Tebow's throw on the first play of overtime Jan. 8 still hangs over Pittsburgh.
As many times as he tried Thursday, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau could not turn the clock to 2012. So he put the topic to rest by taking the blame for the defensive strategy that helped allow the 80-yard touchdown catch by Demaryius Thomas (pictured left) that sunk the Steelers, 29-23, in that playoff game.
He said they were in what he called "cover 9," which others have called an "inverted cover 2." Basically, it was nine defenders crowded around the line of scrimmage to stop what they believed would be a running play on first down.
LeBeau was asked if the defense planned something on that play specifically because Tebow was at quarterback that they might not do against Manning.
"I doubt if we'd be in that particular defense again because the coordinator didn't call a very damn good defense,'' LeBeau said.
Only two in the secondary defended for a possible pass, and there was no deep safety. Tebow hit Thomas on a quick slant over the middle that he turned into an 80-yard touchdown.
"Let me tell you something," LeBeau said. "Over the years I've made a lot of bad calls and I'm man enough to step up and say it and when a play ends the game, ends your season, that can't be a very good call."
He did not let his players off the hook, either.
"That's a big, talented wide receiver. The thing was, we have to get the guy on the ground. You're not going to stop every pass, but you got to tackle the catch and that's something we didn't do on that play and, consequently, we're talking about 2012 now."
And now, instead of Tebow, they're talking about Manning throwing to players such as Thomas, Eric Decker and Brandon Stokley. The Broncos also have a good ground game with Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno.
Some Steelers defenders spent more time preparing for the Broncos by watching old video of Manning's Colts. Larry Foote said the players have not watched video from their playoff loss in Denver.
"There's no need to watch it. It's a different system. You're not going to study what they don't run."
They're running the same offense Manning ran in Indianapolis, LeBeau said.
"Let me be the devil's advocate. If you had Peyton Manning, how much of a different offense would you put in? You're going to get Peyton Manning's offense."
And, yes, LeBeau has watched video of the playoff loss in Denver several times.
"You learn from your mistakes,'' he explained. "You look at it, you look at everything, This isn't a business where you stick your head in the sand and hope it gets better. ... And there is some carryover because the coaching staff hasn't changed. And the running game, I don't think the running game is going to change."
One thing may change, though. Don't look for too much of that plain, old "cover 9" call Sunday night.
"It wasn't a very good call,'' LeBeau said.
It has been an up-and-down week for James Harrison, and Thursday was a downer. He went from a full Monday practice, to giving a positive sign on his knee's response Tuesday, to limited participation in Wednesday's practice to no participation Thursday.
If he does not practice today, count on Chris Carter starting in his place. Carter, in his second season, played in eight games last season, exclusively on special teams.
"He's a promising young player,'' LeBeau said. "He really brings a lot of energy. He's in great shape. He played the whole preseason like he wants to be here and he wants to be on the field. That did not go unnoticed by the coaching staff.
"Are we going to be perfect, no? We've got some young guys and some new guys that are going to play hard. I feel good about him when he is in there."
Running back Baron Batch, who has a groin injury, also did not practice. And while Isaac Redman went through a full practice, there remains some concern about his ankle injury.
The Steelers could be down to two healthy running backs Sunday, Jonathan Dwyer and rookie Chris Rainey. Rashard Mendenhall practiced again but the coaches would prefer to hold him out a little longer as he gets back in step after ACL surgery in January.
"Every day he is out here is a good sign,'' offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. "I hate to talk about on schedule, off schedule or ahead of schedule, or talking about running backs coming back from a major knee injury. He's been out here working. He doesn't have the different color jersey on anymore. You can tell he is gaining confidence every day."
A source close to the situation said no progress has been made in negotiations on a multi-year contract for Mike Wallace and he doesn't expect there will be one before the team opens the season. The Steelers have a policy of not negotiating contracts once the season begins.
If the sides do not come to terms on a new contract, Wallace will play this season for the $2,742,000 salary as designated in his one-year tender as a restricted free agent. He is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent in March.
Wallace, though, seems to be taking care of business on the field in his first week of practice since ending his holdout.
"We knew he has been a big part of this and he will be a big part of this going forward," Haley said. "He's had a couple of days now to get acclimated. He's been studying. He will have a chance to succeed."
Art Rooney II confirmed that the Steelers will wear their 1934 throwback uniforms for home games against Baltimore and Washington.
The Steelers signed cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke, released this week by the Oakland Raiders. Van Dyke was Oakland's third-round draft choice last season and he started four of the 14 games he played for them as a rookie. Van Dyke, 23, played at the University of Miami. The team will have to remove someone from the roster in order to make room for Van Dyke. They could possibly place rookie guard David DeCastro on the eight-week injured reserve.
First Published September 7, 2012 4:00 AM