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Georgia is on rookies’ minds

AFC title-game foes used to play on same D-line

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PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh's Kendrell Bell, the defensive rookie of the year in the NFL, and New England nose tackle Richard Seymour used to force the opposition to the air when they led Georgia's defense in college.

"When they moved the ball, they passed," Bell said with a smile.

It's not unusual for rookies to start in the NFL these days, when low salaries are preferable to high ones, but it is unusual for two to start in one title game. That's what will happen Sunday when Bell lines up at inside linebacker for Pittsburgh, while Seymour plays for the Patriots in the AFC championship.

Neither thinks he has produced his best stuff.

"I'm not satisfied," said Seymour, who was New England's first pick in the draft and started most of the season despite sore hamstrings. "I'm still not 100 percent, but I've been able to play a whole lot more and gained some confidence in what I've been doing and had a lot of guys helping out along the way.

"So it's been a season to build on."

Three rookies will start on defense in Sunday's AFC title game. The third is Pittsburgh nose tackle Casey Hampton, a 320-pounder from Texas.

Hampton has been so good that when Tim Lewis, the Steelers' defensive coordinator, was asked if he'd play a 3-4 defense if he got a head coaching job, Lewis replied: "Only if I can bring Casey."

The 3-4 is one of the elements similar to these two teams.

While Pittsburgh is the only team in the NFL to use it as a base defense, New England incorporates a lot of it. Coach Bill Belichick was one of the masters of the system when he was the defensive coordinator of New York Giants teams that won two Super Bowls.

New England uses a 4-3 as a base but frequently shifts into a 3-4, making Seymour the key man for keeping offensive linemen off the linebackers.

"I think probably the hardest thing is probably just the mental aspect of the game, because physically I feel that I can get the job done," Seymour said. Bell earned his award by finishing second on the Steelers in sacks with nine after winning the starting job over 11-year veteran Mike Jones, hero of the 2000 Super Bowl.

The man who led the Steelers with 12 sacks, outside linebacker Jason Gildon, says to expect more. A lot more.

"I don't mean this as a negative, but K is playing on pure instinct now," Gildon said. "He had a lot to learn when he got here, and he still has a lot to learn. It just goes to prove how much ability he has that he was able to do that much."

What makes the sack total even more remarkable is that Bell usually is taken out in passing situations — replaced by an extra defensive back.

"I hope that I can prove to them I can play on third down," he said.