'Slash' Stewart burns Steelers' foes WR/QB/back/punter has done it all as rookie

January 11, 1996|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

The mere mention of his name causes problems for Indianapolis Colts coach Ted Marchibroda.

"Kordell Stewart, oh, that guy," said Marchibroda, whose team will meet the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC championship game Sunday at Three Rivers Stadium. "He gives you a dimension that you would like to have. He's so versatile that you don't know what to do with him."

Steelers coach Bill Cowher knows how to use Stewart, his prized rookie. On one play, he is the quarterback. On the next, he's the halfback. Three plays later, he is a slot receiver.

What's next, punter?

Oh, Stewart has been there, and done that, too. He punted for 41 yards Saturday as the Steelers defeated the Buffalo Bills, 40-21, in the conference semifinals. That's why his nickname is "Slash" as in quarterback/wide receiver/running back/punter.

"The nickname comes from Coach Cowher," said Stewart, who was a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback for Colorado before being drafted in the second round by the Steelers. "He asked me if I could play wide receiver, and I told him yes. Then he began moving me all over the place. The nickname came about as I started covering more territory."

Maybe no other player in the NFL covers more ground in such limited playing time. Stewart averaged 5.7 yards a run, 16.8 per catch and 8.6 per pass. Then last week on a fourth-and-12 at the Bills' 41-yard line, Stewart lined up behind center in shotgun formation and punted the ball, which was nearly downed on the 1 before being ruled a touchback.

No wonder Stewart has Marchibroda scratching his head.

"Coach never gave me a play, so I was wondering what was going on," said Stewart. "Finally, one of the linemen told me I had to punt. Every play, I just try to make something happen."

Stewart is a throwback, but at the same time a renaissance man. He has helped open up an offense that was once boring, unimaginative and run-oriented.

But opposing teams no longer are stacking eight players at the line of scrimmage. They have to deal with Yancey Thigpen, Andre Hastings, Ernie Mills, Charles Johnson and Stewart in the team's five-receiver passing formation.

The Steelers have thrown for 4,093 yards this season, and Stewart is the team's first deep-threat, big-play, game-breaking wide receiver since John Stallworth retired in 1988.

"Ron Erhardt [offensive coordinator] has always been very open-minded about the things we wanted Kordell to do in our offense," said Cowher. "But we didn't think it would happen this early in his rookie year."

The rookie was inactive for the first five games. Pittsburgh didn't want to use him this season as a receiver, but when No. 5 receiver Johnnie Barnes went down with an injury, the Steelers had little choice.

"We were depleted at that position, so we put him on the scout team," said Cowher. "He was running some great routes. Then when we went against our defense, no one could cover him. Once we got him on the 45-man roster, we started to exploit his talents."

Stewart runs the 40 in 4.43, and he used that speed to catch a 71-yard touchdown pass against the Cincinnati Bengals in November. He also has rushed for a 22-yard touchdown, and passed for another one to Mills.

"There are a lot of quarterbacks who are versatile," said Stewart. "I'm the only one who has an opportunity to exploit all my talents. They just throw; I have an opportunity to catch and run."

Stewart has boundless enthusiasm, and he's thrilled to be a prime-time rookie for a team that is one game away from the Super Bowl. But Stewart wants to get one message across.

He doesn't want to be "Slash" for the rest of his pro career. There's a reason why he wears No. 10 and has Leigh Steinberg as his agent.

"When they first asked me to play receiver, I was disappointed because I wanted to be a quarterback," said Stewart. "I agreed, but I wanted them to know that my future role would be as a quarterback. They have told me I'm their quarterback of the future, and I hope it works out that way."

Steelers starting quarterback Neil O'Donnell will become a free agent next month, and there is speculation he could sign with the New York Jets, clearing the way for Stewart.

"Regardless of what happens with Neil, I want the opportunity to become their quarterback of the future," said Stewart. "But hey, if I get my chance and I'm sitting on the bench, then I'll do this."

Mr. Versatility

Steelers rookie Kordell Stewart, a quarterback in college, has proved to be a triple threat. In Saturday's playoff game against Buffalo, Stewart displayed a fourth talent -- punting.

Regular season

Rushing

No. .. Yds. .. Avg. .. TD

15 ... 86 . .. 5.7 ... 1

Receiving

No. .. Yds. .. Avg. .. TD

14 ... 235 ... 16.8 .. 1

Passing

Att. . Com ... Pct. .. Yds. .. TD .. Int.

7 .. ... 5 ... 71.4 ... 60 .. . 1 .. . 0

Playoffs

Rushing

No. .. Yds. .. Avg. .. TD

1 . .. 5 .. .. 5.0 ... 0

Receiving

No. .. Yds. .. Avg. .. TD

2 . ... 27 ... 13.5 ... 0

Passing

Att. Com. Yds. Pct. TD Int.

No passes attempted

Punting

No. .. Yds. .. Avg. .. TB

1 . .. 41 . .. 41.0 .. 1

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