As I stated in a previous post, I usually skip preseason games. The tedium of watching fourth and fifth stringers compete for the honor of becoming practice squad fodder simply doesn’t interest me. However, it’s been so long since my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers last took the field, I was compelled to watch their inaugural effort last night.
Since I took the time to highlight a few select training camp battles here, I thought I’d share some early observations on those competitions. I’ll also throw in a couple snap judgments about some notable players suiting up this season for the Black and Gold.
Limas Sweed – Sweed got a bad rap by Steeler Nation for some horrible drops late last season (including a sure touchdown in the AFC Championship Game). He looked terrific last night, catching 2 balls for 56 yards, highlighted by a 45 yard grab where he out jumped a defender Plaxico Burress-style and caught the ball with a helmet assist reminiscent of David Tyree. That kind of tall, athletic, jump ball catching WR is exactly what the Steelers have been missing. It’s why they drafted Sweed and it looks like he may be ready to provide it.
Shaun McDonald - The veteran caught 6 passes for 69 yards. The #3 receiver spot is still Sweed’s to lose but McDonald seems to at least be in the mix. He mostly played late in the game against fourth stringers which either means the coaches are comfortable about what to expect from him or he’s already an afterthought. I would guess the former is more likely the case.
Mike Wallace – The rookie made the best impression out of the remaining WRs. He only caught 2 balls for 35 yards but showed some excellent vertical speed in going deep. He didn’t connect on any bombs (mostly due to poor throws from the quarterback) but that speed is very enticing. He was also used as the kick returner, returning one ball 35 yards. That’s a lot better than Gary Russell’s catch-the-ball-and-plow-ahead-5-yards strategy last year.
Daniel Sepulveda - Many a feminine heart was aflutter as Dreamy Daniel made his welcome return to the Steelers. He seemed to show no ill effects from last year’s torn ACL as he boomed 6 punts for an average of 50 yards. I’ll leave it to my female readers to swoon over his looks, I’m perfectly happy to swoon over the fact we finally have a punter that can kick the ball more than 15 yards down the field.
Ziggy Hood - The Steelers top draft pick played well in his pro debut. He got some nice pressure off the edge, albeit playing against backup offensive linemen. I also noticed him hustling downfield to get involved in the play several times. They said the kid had a great motor and seeing is believing. He’s not going to play much (if at all) this season but I feel good about what we’ll be seeing from him in the future.
Joe Burnett, Keiwan Ratliff- Cornerback depth is one of the few concerns on this team. Will.i.am Gay is the new starter and he looked okay in limited action. Anthony Madison is supposedly #4 on the chart (after the starters and ageless wonder Deshea Townshend) but he didn’t play well at all. Keiwan Ratliff, the journeyman free agent pick up, had an excellent game. He recorded 6 tackles and had a nice corner blitz-sack. I liked what I saw from this guy.
Burnett, another rookie, had mixed results. He played nice corner, intercepting a pass at the end of the half and returning it 42 yards (but not for a score) in a play eerily similar to James Harrison‘s Super Bowl pick six. However, Burnett is probably more important to the team as a return man. He handled the punts and didn’t fare well at all. His first one was fumbled away, while he returned the two he managed to catch 12 yards each. Obviously, I’ll give him a break for nerves and the sample size is very very small but I wasn’t impressed with what I saw.
Charlie Batch, Dennis Dixon - Batch, making his return from a broken collarbone, played very sparingly. He had the one completion to Sweed but misfired badly on his other attempt. They yanked him after those two pass attempts over two series.
However, if Dixon hopes to take the #2 spot from Batch, he has to play better than he did tonight. He played the majority of the game, going 10/19 for 112 yards with no TDs or INTs. He showed a lot of Slash-like tendencies in that on some passes he’d fire beautiful strikes right on target, then on the next play badly overthrow a wide open receiver. Lack of playing time may very well account for this inconsistency so let’s give him time. The Steelers are clearly high on him, letting him play almost three entire quarters to get a good look. Off of what I saw, though, I wouldn’t want to put my season into his hands for any extended period of time should Big Ben take another wrong turn on his motorcycle.
Isaac Redman - Isaac who? Trust me, I’ve saved the best for last. Isaac Redman is an undrafted rookie out of college football powerhouse Bowie State. The 5’10 228 pound back put up some pretty impressive rushing totals for that school during a four year career.
While fellow rookie Frank “The Tank” Summers got all the hoopla coming in to camp, Redman put on the best performance last night. The Tank was used primarily as a fullback, carrying only twice for 3 yards. Meanwhile, Redman had 10 rushes for 32 yards. Not exactly the greatest numbers but two of those rushes were for TDs.
Short yardage TDs to be specific. Both were goal line attempts where Redman was stopped at the line and then bulled his way forward for the score. At 5’10, he’s a tall target with a fairly vertical running style that makes him easy to hit. What he does have is the bulk and leg drive to push ahead in a very impressive fashion. If the Steelers are looking for a short yardage back to take Russell’s place, Isaac looks to be the early favorite for the role.
Still, one must keep in mind Redman played against fourth stringers when he performed his heroics. Then again, in goal line drills earlier this week, Redman was the only back to score on our first team defense. It also bears mentioning that Rashard Mendenhall, playing most of the first half with Fast Willie nursing an injury, only had 27 yards on 9 carries playing with the first and second string offensive lines. He looked fine making cuts but showed very little in the way of power running, which is what the Steelers need from him.
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