LeSean McCoy played and practiced at Heinz Field when he starred for the Pitt Panthers. Got to know the Steelers' players and coaches. McCoy said Friday he would even watch Steelers games at the home of then-Steelers wideout Santonio Holmes, with some of Holmes' friends.

Sunday's Eagles-Steelers game will be the first regular-season trip to Pittsburgh for the NFL's current third-leading rusher, and it means something.

"Tons of guys will come out to the game," said McCoy, a Harrisburg native. "A lot of old friends and family. I'm excited to go back. I can't get wrapped up in the individual thing of 'I'm about to go back there and see all my old friends and play in my old stadium.' I'm definitely going there for one thing, to get a win."

But, he'll know where he is when he comes out of the tunnel, will remember those tense Pitt-West Virginia rivalry games, will spend a minute or two with Steelers he came to know well, such as safety Ryan Clark.

McCoy recalled watching Steelers practice.

"They'd say guys are hurt, you know, 'is he going to play this week?' We'd see him practicing, [think], 'he's playing this week.' . . . I have tons of friends on that team, offense and defense . . . It's going to be weird, going back home . . . I know they'll play tough, as always."

McCoy said he hasn't heard much from the Steelers this week, didn't expect to get into any jawing, even though wideout Antonio Brown bizarrely was quoted as referring to Eagles nickel corner Brandon Boykin as a "candy bar."

"They don't talk too much. [Safety Troy] Polamalu will play as hard as he can; he won't say a word," McCoy said. "They ain't gonna call me no candy bar."

'Beautiful challenge'

It's been a new experience in Philadelphia for cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who saw teams avoid throwing at him for years when he played for the Oakland Raiders.

Last year, his first with the Eagles, Asomugha had to transition to a lot of zone play under new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo. This year, he has been more frequently used in the man coverage he feels more comfortable playing, but with young gun Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie on the other corner, opposing offenses haven't avoided Asomugha. He's being thrown at on roughly twice as many plays as he was his final year in Oakland.

Asomugha, 31, said Friday it's a different challenge, but one he welcomes.

"It's a beautiful challenge, because that's what you want - you want opportunities to play, instead of just being out there," Asomugha said.

Asmougha said he is "kind of learning new things and getting back into it, as far as the competition level."

Asked whether getting thrown at more means getting beat more, Asomugha said: "You don't really think about it like that. In Oakland, you're competing on every snap, but you don't have an opportunity at the ball on every snap. My mentality since I've been in the league has been to play hard every time I'm out there, and good things will happen, one way or the other.

"If a guy makes a catch, it's not because I wasn't playing hard. I've never proclaimed perfection on the field or anything like that. My whole motto has been playing hard, being focused on every snap, and if the guy gets one, he earned it.

"From the outside [looking] in, if you have a reputation for being perfect, and you have a slipup, all of a sudden, 'what's going on?' But on the inside, you know it's not going to be perfect. You're going to be a competitor, you brush that stuff off."

Asomugha agreed with a questioner who thought the Steelers' receiving corps was formidable, but he said every group the Eagles have played so far was pretty strong, including the Browns in the opener, even if that group was young and inexperienced.

Asomugha said it was hard to assess what the return of Steelers running back Rashard Mendenall would mean for Sunday, but "we're preparing for them to throw."

Deja oooof . . .

The Eagles play the Steelers in the preseason every year, but despite all the "battle of Pennsylvania" hype, the teams rarely play in the regular season. The last time was Sept. 21, 2008, when the Birds shocked Ben Roethlisberger and company, 15-6, at Lincoln Financial Field. They haven't played a game that counted in Pittsburgh since the Eagles' Super Bowl season. That one remains a very vivid bad memory for Eagles fans - the Birds came in 7-0, but with what turned out to be a very limited Brian Westbrook, who had suffered a rib injury 2 weeks earlier at Cleveland and missed the intervening game, a win over the Ravens.

Westbrook ended up running six times for 17 yards in a 27-3 loss, catching three passes for 4 yards. The Birds were down, 21-0, in the second quarter. They ended up allowing 252 rushing yards - good chance that won't happen this time, anyhow - on 56 Steelers carries, Jerome Bettis rumbling for 149 on 33.

Roethlisberger, a rookie, needed to complete only 11 passes (out of 18 attempts, for 183 yards). It was the only loss the Eagles' starters suffered that year - the Birds lost two games at the end of the season when they had already clinched homefield throughout the NFC playoffs and were resting their starters.


Andy Reid said linebacker Akeem Jordan (hamstring) will not play Sunday. Special-teams ace Colt Anderson (knee) and defensive tackle Derek Landri (knee) are questionable, but they are expected to play . . . Wouldn't be a shock to see wide receiver Riley Cooper, a solid special-teams player, make his season debut Sunday. Reid and Cooper were coy about that Friday, but Cooper noted that he has been practicing for 3 weeks now. "I'm great," Cooper said, when asked about the healing of his broken collarbone . . . Sunday's game features the Steelers' NFL-best third-down conversion rate (27-for-48, 56.3 percent) against the Eagles' third-best defensive third down rate (14-for-52, 26.9 percent). Asked why the Steelers are so good on third town, Eagles defensive end replied: "It's Ben Roethlisberger. He's the guy that makes their whole offense work. He makes a lot of great reads, he has a lot of great weapons at his disposal." And why have the Eagles been good at getting off the field on third down? "The team trusts [defensive coordinator Juan Castillo]," Tapp said. "He's put us in a great situation this year to make plays, and when the plays come, we've done a good job of making them so far."

Contact Les Bowen at bowenl@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @LesBowen. For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog at www.eagletarian.com.