January 3, 2010 4:13 PM EST. That is the date and time of the final Steelers football that any of us can remember. There were no playoffs in the 2009 season, which is pretty rare for a Steelers team, but we have waited way too long. As I have chronicled before on this blog I went to training camp, but that did no justice to what I need. You can feel the itch in the air in Pittsburgh about this season. Everyone talking about the Bengals and TO, everyone talking about the Ravens and whoever the hell they have, the only talking people do about the Steelers is that Ben changed his hometown in the media guide. What a joke. That is ok though, leave it that way. That is the way I want it.
Waking up today you knew this was a start of a new year. Some players are gone, some new ones came in and we welcomed back some old faces that wished they had never left. It will be an interesting season, there is no doubt about that, but I have high hopes for this team.
So what should you expect from the first preseason game against the Detroit Lions? Really? You shouldn't expect a whole lot from the starters, and you shouldn't. The first team offensive and defensive teams are going to play between 8-12 snaps each, according to Mike Tomlin, so if you blink your eyes you might miss the first teams playing.
There isn't much to see from those units, the defense is pretty in tact, and the guys that came back that will be in those positions don't need much work. They know what they are doing. The offense might need some more work since there will be a new QB for the first four games and a new lineman and a few new receivers, but there are three other preseason games for stuff like that. Get them a few reps and let them shower.
Not sure what you should be looking for? Well lucky for you I have an idea of what you should be looking for, both in first team reps and to a larger extent the second and third teams. So here is a short rundown of what we are looking at:
1) Who is gonig to play QB to start the game? Should be start and get a series before Lefty gets into the game? To be honest I am torn either way on this. Ben is the starter, no doubt, but the first four games he is not going to be on the field. Should Byron get all (most) of the snaps with the first team tonight? Probably in my opinion, but I wouldn't mind seeing Ben come out and sling a few balls with the first team. He is a top 5, maybe top 3 QB in the league, you gotta love to watch him play football. On a deeper extent how much PT is Dennis Dixon going to get? From all accounts he hasn't done much in camp so this is his first real big chance to make a push to play in the regular season. If if Byron is goin to start the season Dennis has to be ready to step in in case of injury.
2) The secondary - This was a soft spot last year and it got exposed badly. The Steelers brough back Bryant McFadden and Troy comes back to solidify the defensive backfield, but will they be able to mesh right back in? Troy will, but McFadden has been gone with another team. I personally think that brining McFadden back was the best offseason move the Steelers made and feel that he can really make this team that much better. I want to see how much he remembers of DL's system. Also remember that BMac is an excellent tackler which is going to be huge. Watching the second team guys will be more importatnt than BMac and Troy though. Can Will Gay step up and be a serviceable DB for the Steelers? Keenan Lewis has been getting high praise but can he make the step in the second year? I would like to see something. Some development out of the young DB's could make this defense even more dangerous than you think.
3) Running back - Sure we know that Rashard Mendenhall is going to be the starters. Sure we know Mewelde Moore (MeMo) is going to be a reliable back, but who the hell else is going to give these guys a rest? Jon Dwyer is the sexy pick here, but what has he done so far to impress? In my short time in training camp last week I was really high on Dwyer after seeing him in person, but I haven't heard such good things about him recently. Isaac "redzone" Redmon wasn't on the team last year but is back for a second try. Sure he did great in last years camp, but couldn't really cut it. Is another year's experience going to help this kid? What about Frank Summers? The Steelers have been working with him in sort of a hybrid fullback/short yardage back, but is that going to justify him making this team and being able to make an impact in the regular season? Justin Vincent is also in camp, but do you really want him as your third RB? With the starters only getting 8-12 reps there is gonig to be a lot of playing time for these guys. Tonight will give us a nice showcase of what they have and might be these guys best chances to make this team and make a push to get some PT on a regular basis.
4) Special Teams - More specifically Stef Logan. Does he deserve a roster spot just to be a return specialist? I don't know. In my opinion he is going to have to do a lot more than he did last year to make this team, especially with the experience that the free agents brought in with returning kicks. The Steelers drafted a lot of linebackers in the draft. Sure they are going to be fighting for a backup spot but they were brought here to hopefully help coverage units that were god awful last season. Watch for this.
Other thigns to watch for - How the new WR (Randle El, Battle) get used to getting balls from Ben and Byron (and Dixon) and how they run routes. How the back up linebackers play. Dan Sepulveda kicking off.
It is almost that time, you know what that means..