Remember, Ben: Laces Out! - By John Smathers

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

Training camp and preseason games aren't supposed to be about gadgets and gimmicks. It's supposed to be about fundamental stuff and it was fundamentals that got the Steelers from point A (where they were this time last year), to point B (a Super Bowl victory in Detroit) last season.

Chris GardockiYet, one of the most memorable plays of last season, and in fact, the most replayed play from the Super Bowl, was Antwaan Randle El's touchdown pass to Hines Ward.

The Steelers are hard at work on fundamentals now and Ken Whisenhunt may have put the black bag stuff ... on hold, you might say.

There is more than meets the eye to the battle between punters Chris Gardocki and Mike Barr than hang time, distance and salary cap value. By the way, Gardocki, the veteran incumbent, would make $1,088,000 this season, with a salary cap value of $1.3 million, or about $1 million more than Barr's cap value would be.

Gardocki is the holder for kicker Jeff Reed on all kick attempts and he does a great job. Obviously, the Steelers would need a new holder if Barr wins the punting job and Barr has in fact when working with Reed to hone his holder skills. Gardocki did the holding on Reed's only two kicks against the Minnesota Vikings Saturday, but it would appear Barr has a big leg up on the job if Gardocki is sent packing. Barr held on all of Reed's kicks in practice as late as Monday.

But not so fast. A photographer for a Pittsburgh newspaper captured an interesting scene after practice on Aug. 4. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was working with Reed on holding for kicks. It was just one still shot, so it's hard to tell, but they appeared to be taking it very seriously.

When I saw the photo, I couldn't help but think of Dan Marino and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Holding for kicks is serious business, man. I mean, screwing it up almost got Marino killed, it showed us that Sean Young used to be a guy (which really disturbed me) and (seriously) the whole concept of holding for kicks launched Jim Carrey into movie super stardom. Ventura, you see, was his first mega hit.

Come to think of it, Reed is a kicker and kickers in general are thought of as a little flaky, but Reed is no Ray Finkel and I can't imagine him morphing into Sean Young or any other babe. And thank God for that.

At any rate, didn't we all now see the holder in a different light? I did. Until that movie, I didn't really think about how the holder had to prepare the ball for the kicker. The holder has to catch the long snap, get the ball down and upright and make sure the laces are out. All along he knows that the instant the ball was snapped, the kicker started striding toward the ball, expecting that all would be right when his foot hits it. And we're just watching the kicker, ready to blame him if the kick goes wide.

Could the Steelers be considering putting this added pressure on Roethlisberger, a man who deals with pressure pretty well?

It was just one photo. Maybe they were just goofing around after practice. But the Steelers have had quarterbacks hold for kickers before - most recently Tommy Maddox. And a couple of years ago, didn't the Steelers toy with the idea of using Randle El as a holder? It never came to fruition, but it had people talking about and imagining what Randle El, with his quarterback background and athleticism, might be able to do with a poor snap or a designed play.

Roethlisberger has a quarterback's background and he has athleticism. The Steelers have run gadget plays out of field goal formations before. And punters get hurt, too.

Judging from the Steelers' performances in the preseason so far, the fundamental stuff is and should be their main concern. But if Roethlisberger suddenly shows up as Reed's holder at some point this season, remember, you read it here first. And remember, Ben ...

LACES OUT!