Well, it didn’t seem like we would ever get to this point. After the Steelers dropped their Super Bowl chance against the Packers the NFL, and the Steelers, have been through a whirl wind of action and controversy. For a while it got to the point where you thought they were going to play a game then you thought they weren’t going to play a game then they might then they might not. Whatever, it’s over now and the Steelers are ready to open up the playing portion of the 2011 season with their first preseason game.
The preseason opens up this year with a game against the Washington Redskins. As most will tell you the preseason really doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. In the first preseason game Mike Tomlin said that the starters would play about 10 snaps so we really shouldn’t see much of any tangible players that will actually be in big money situations once the season starts. What you will see is the guys that are fighting for a roster spot and the ones that will be key players in the Steelers push for another Super Bowl.
Here are a few observations that should be highlighted in the first preseason game:
-The offensive line: This is going to be a tough year for the offensive line. With the Steelers letting go of Max Starks and Flozell Adams and didn’t bring anyone else in except draft picks. The Steelers starters aren’t even really set in stone at this point so the preseason is going to go a long way into seeing what the line has and seeing who is still going to be around. Two offensive linemen that I really want to keep my eye on are tackle Chris Scott and second round pick Marcus Gilbert. Much, if not all, the first team guys will be out quickly and guys like Scott and Gilbert will get a really good look. This is very important because injuries are going to happen, maybe not to the extent that they happened last year, but you never know. You need to get a really good look at those backup guys and see who you have and what you have to deal with. Even with Tony Hills they need to get another look at him. He could possibly be the first guy off the bench for a tackle position. Hopefully he comes out and has a good preseason because it would be a huge lift to get Hills on the right track.
-To continue on the offensive side of the ball Limas Sweed and running back Jonathan Dwyer are going to get extended looks. Not sure how much time Sweed is going to see because he has had a handful of injuries during training camp but he needs to play some good ball probably more than anyone else on the team. Jonathan Dwyer might be the person that benefits most from Barron Batch being injured and this could be one of his few chances to stay with this team. Reports are that he came back way out of shape and not ready for the season. I have to think Mendenhal might get a couple of carries while MeMo and Ike Redman might only get a few so we will see a lot of Dwyer and Wisconsin alum Jon Clay are going to get a ton of carries.
-I think the specials teams are going to be interesting to watch. Daniel Sepulveda is back after missing much of the season with a torn ACL (again) and he will be back for the Black and Gold after signing back up. It will be good to see how he has recovered and what kind of strength he has in the leg this year. The special teams are also interesting to watch because this is how some players are going to make this team. If you want to impress the coaches you don’t only show them what you can do on the offensive and defensive side of the ball but also on the special teams. As Steelers fans we have seen too many times what bad special teams play can do so this will be the unsung thing to watch.
-The defensive backfield is going to be fun to watch. Bryant McFadden is not expected to play and Ike Taylor will probably only see one series worth of work and the same for Will Gay so the young guns are going to get a ton of reps. The rookies Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown will get some looks and second year player Crezdon Butler and third year Keenan Lewis are going to have to show the coach staff something. The secondary wasn’t the best last year and I would expect that come week one of the NFL season the game plan is going to be to spread the Steelers out and chuck the ball around. If one or two of these youngsters can step up it will make the defense that much better.
-Word is that Steven Sylvester is in much better shape than last year and that he added a bunch of bulk onto his frame so watching him should be fun. He could be a big breakout performer this year. First round pick Cameron Hayward will get his first pro snaps and we will get to see what he has to offer and Jason Worilds will get a ton of snaps. Worilds has been getting called out by linebackers coach Keith Butler recently and it would be nice if he could flash something during the preseason. Granted, playing well in the preseason doesn’t mean a whole lot for when the regular season comes but with Harrison still having back problems it wouldn’t shock me to see more of Worilds this season if he can step up and earn the playing time.
-My final plea for this first preseason game is to not take anything you see out of context. This is the first time all of these players are out on the field after like four weeks of practice. There will be a lot of mistakes and there is going to be a learning curve. It happens. The worst thing you can do is take something you see as fact or try to validate a players worth on one preseason game. Preseason is a good guide but it is far from regular season games. The Steelers could win by 100 or they could lose by 300 and it still wouldn’t mean much. There is a reason these games don’t matter.
Not sure if I will have a recap up tonight or tomorrow. I will be in Milwaukee for the Pirates series and not able to watch any of the game. I might try to get something up, but don’t hold your breath.