Tomorrow night, the Pittsburgh Steelers take the field for their first preseason game against the Detroit Lions. This time last year, the Black and Gold were defending Super Bowl champs and training camp held very little suspense. We knew what we had and we knew who we had and there wasn’t much in the way of mystery as to what our final roster would be. Our biggest concern was whether Isaac Redman would make the team as a fourth string running back.
Oh how times have changed.
Tomorrow will be the first step in determining what the 2010 edition of the Steelers will look like. With that in mind, I thought I’d give you some insight on what areas of the team are most likely to look a bit different when we kick off against Atlanta about a month from now.
OFFENSIVE LINE - Clearly the biggest weakness on the team the past few years, the entire right side will be overhauled. My best guess is we’re looking at (left to right) a Starks-Kemo-Hartwig-Pouncey-Flozell starting group. If you’ve read my Adams signing post a few entries down, you’ll see Cowboys fans aren’t exactly missing The Hotel. If he sucks, the Steelers owe him nothing so they’ll cut him without a thought. Jonathan Scott would be the most likely starter in that case. And then there’s Pouncey. Early reports out of Latrobe are he looks like a monster at the center position. Hartwig was various shades of terrible last year so if he can’t cut it, the Steelers may pull the trigger on Pouncey at center (where he’ll wind up eventually) and just put Trai Essex at RG.
RUNNING GAME – Related to the O-line, the Steelers had little to no running game last year. And where did Bruce Arians’ Flying Circus get us? Nowhere. Every important voice in Steeler Nation, from Art Rooney III to myself have stressed getting back to Steelers Football aka pounding the rock. The good news is Rashard Mendenhall looked awesome in the eight carries he’d get every game last year. But whose behind him? Mewelde Moore is adequate but unspectacular. Jonathan Dwyer and Frank Summers are bruisers in the Bettis mode. Dwyer is especially interesting but reports are his weight issues are already a concern. Redzone Redman is also back trying to win the coveted “short yardage specialist” job. Hopefully one of them will emerge as the Thunder to Mendenhall’s Lightning.
Then we have Stefan Logan. Used solely as a return man last year, the Steelers are looking at using him in a Brian Westbrook type role this year. He’ll line up in the backfield, he’ll run out into the slot… He could be a pleasant surprise this season if his midget body can hold up.
SECONDARY - Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden will start which thank the good lord above moves Willie Gay back to the nickelback role. What’ll be interesting is to see what we have behind them. Deshea is gone so he’s not an option any more. Dick LeBeau is said to have a man-crush on Keenan Lewis, a tall athletic corner who couldn’t get on the field last year. Joe Burnett did play a bit but he’s on the smallish side and I wasn’t that impressed with what I saw. If either of them can show anything, it would be a great sign.
WIDE RECEIVER - Losing Santonio Holmes makes what was a pretty explosive receiving corps a question mark. Yes, Mike Wallace had a fantastic rookie season but he had ‘Tone drawing double coverage to free him up. I love Randle-El but he’s a possession guy, not a game breaker. I’ve been hearing this year’s third rounder Emmanuel Sanders is looking great at camp. Could he be this year’s Wallace?
SPECIAL TEAMS - Last year, our special teams quite frankly blew. Jeff Reed couldn’t kick it and nobody could tackle. Part one of that equation appears to be changing as punter Daniel Sepulveda has been handling the kickoffs during camp. Way to earn that $3 million, Skippy.
Meanwhile, Logan was brought to be a game changing return man and wound up doing almost nothing. With Joystick moving to a more offensive role, the return man role is open once again. On the flip side, every kick or punt was a disaster waiting to happen in the return coverage. The Steelers signed Arnaz Battle and Patrick Bailey, two supposed special teams “specialists” and drafted several players who played on the kick units in college. Anthony Madison is back and Keyaron Fox probably won’t be needed as much with Larry Foote around so he can go back to being a special teams ace. We all hope to see vastly improved special teams although really could they be any worse?
Of course, you probably noticed I have yet to mention the flashiest battle of the summer. Who will start at quarterback while Naughty Ben sits in time-out for the first month of the season? Byron Leftwich has been taking the vast majority of first team snaps so it looks like he’s the anointed one. I personally think Dennis Dixon deserves a chance to make his case. Looking at my poll, I see my intelligent readers agree with me. (PS: Fourteen people voted for Charlie Batch? Since when did schools for people with learning disabilities get internet access? Are you kidding me with this?) Reports out of Latrobe say Dixon has looked very impressive while primarily taking snaps with the 2nd and 3rd teamers.
I think Leftwich is going to start against Atlanta no matter what but if Slash 2.0 rips off a few flashy plays like the epic 45 yard scramble against Buffalo a couple years back, the hook might come quickly if Byron struggles out the gate…
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