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Hubbard's Smith has good start



Published: Sat, September 9, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



The third-string free safety was on the punt and kickoff coverage units, making three solo tackles and one assist.

By TOM WILLIAMS

VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF

PITTSBURGH -- Hubbard High graduate Anthony Smith had never played before a crowd as large and as boisterous as the 64,927 who watched the Steelers and Dolphins open the NFL season Thursday at Heinz Field.

"It felt good," said Smith, a rookie safety who was drafted by the Steelers in the third round. "It was exciting because I've never been in front of a crowd like that before. We've got great fans here, which is exciting.

"But you've got to learn to control your emotions," Smith said. "I went out there and had a good time. It was fun."

Smith was the second player the Steelers took in the April draft and is the third-string free safety behind Ryan Clark and Tyrone Carter.

Early stages

But because of an impressive training camp, many expect Smith to challenge for defensive playing time as the season progresses and he absorbs more of the playbook.

For now, Smith is playing on special teams. During the Steelers' 28-17 victory Thursday, Smith was on the punt and kickoff coverage units, making three solo tackles and one assist.

"I just went out there and did what I could to help the team," said Smith who played at Syracuse. Last year, the Orangemen went 1-10.

"It feels good to be on the winning sideline," Smith said. "It's only one victory but I'm pretty sure there will be more to come. It's a great organization."

Growing up, Smith said he didn't watch much professional football but when he did, "I was a Cowboys fan,"

His favorite player?

"Emmitt Smith because I was a running back in high school," Smith said.

On the Dolphins' first punt, Jason Allen grabbed Smith during the return and was penalized for holding.

Special teams struggled

Overall, the Steelers' special teams struggled against the Dolphins. Santonio Holmes, the team's first-round draft pick from Ohio State, fielded a third-quarter punt at the Miami 4 and slipped at the 6.

Ricardo Colclough and Ike Taylor touched punted balls in the first quarter that the Steelers were able to retain.

Dolphins punt returner Wes Welker had a 47-yard return to the Steelers 15.

"The one punt that they broke was disappointing," Steelers coach Bill Cowher said. "Santonio fielded one that he probably shouldn't have fielded. The kid will learn from that."

Cowher credited disguised blitzes for Dolphins quarterback Daunte Culpepper's two fourth-quarter interceptions (by safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker Joey Porter). Porter returned his pickoff 42 yards for the game-sealing touchdown.

"We did a lot of blitzing tonight," Cowher said. "Daunte Culpepper, I have a lot of respect for his arm and strength. He's not a guy that will go down on an arm tackle. We just felt like we had to put some pressure on him."

Batch's performance

Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch, filling in for recovering Ben Roethlisberger, completed 15-of-25 passes for 209 yards and three touchdowns.

But in the fourth quarter with the Steelers down 17-14, Batch fumbled an exchange from center Jeff Hartings at the Miami 1.

"I was disappointed in myself -- it took away points and could have affected how the game turned out," Batch said. "The defense did a good job of stopping them."

The play that turned the game around was Batch's pass to tight end Heath Miller who ran for an 87-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

"The safety jumped out on [wide receiver] Hines [Ward], and there was really nobody out there to cover the corner route," Miller said.

Replays showed Miller was knocked out of bounds inside the Miami 5, but Dolphins' coach Nick Saban's challenge was not seen by the officials until after Jeff Reed kicked the extra point.

"It was thrown well before they kicked the [extra point]," Saban said. "The officials didn't see it and they said that they didn't see it. I said, 'Who's fault is that?' "

williams@vindy.com




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