The Steelers will be matching up against the Atlanta Falcons and Mike Mayock’s favorite QB in Week 3 of the preseason at Heinz Field. With the regular season looming in the immediate future, playing well in tonight’s game will be vital to those on the team that are are either vying for starting spots or spots in the final 53 in general. That being said, there are some guys on the team that I will be watching more closely than others over the next two weeks, because they have the most to gain/lose/prove, and thus will be very interesting to watch. So I figured that I would construct a list of five Steelers that have the most to gain/lose/prove with their performances in tonight’s game and the rest of the preseason as well. Let’s get started after the jump:
5. Keenan Lewis
This is probably Keenan Lewis’ last shot in the Steel City, but he’s not going down without a fight. Lewis will need a strong performance the last two weeks to offset a dismal two year career that has been plagued by inconsistency, immaturity, and injuries. Luckily for him, in the first two preseason games Keenan has begun to scratch the surface of his talent. Lewis has turned in two pretty good games against Washington and Philly., and even had an INT of Michael Vick in last week’s game. Yet due to the glut of backup CB’s scratching and clawing for the Nickel and Dime roles, it will not be a picnic for Lewis that’s for sure. But with Ike out and B-Mac listed as questionable, Keenan will have his chances tonight, and if he doesn’t take them, he has only himself to blame for a nothing career in Pittsburgh if he is eventually cut.
4. Marcus Gilbert
While it appears that Jonathan Scott’s injury is not completely serious, rumors have begun to circulate that he might not be ready to go Week 1 in Baltimore. Since Scott is at least out for this week’s game, 2011 2nd Round pick Marcus Gilbert will get the nod to start at LT. I for one am stoked that the Rookie will be getting his feet wet. I mean a guy’s gotta sink or swim sometime right, so why not now? Moreover, Gilbert should be matched up against Pro-Bowl DE John Abraham and this could be a tremendous litmus test for Gilbert and a great experiment to see what the Steelers have in terms of their options at Tackle in 2011. Who knows? Maybe Gilbert will come in and show his 2nd Round value and play well. If that’s the case, we may be seeing more of the Rookie as the regular season inches ever closer. If Gilbert struggles however, it will still be good experience for the Rookie, and he will have another season to mature because he is not in danger of losing his spot on the roster just yet. Anyways, I’m happy that the team is giving Gilbert a shot to show them what he has got in terms of talent against top competition. And it’s a low risk high reward scenario if he is at least able to contribute in Year 1.
3. Jerricho Cotchery
While Cotchery (like Gilbert) isn’t in danger of being left off the roster, a strong performance by Jerricho could shake up the depth chart with a good effort against the Falcons. After really only a week of real practice with the team, Cotchery had two fantastic catches against the Eagles last Thursday, one of which was a TD. If Cotchery goes off against both Atlanta and then Carolina next week, a hobbled Manny Sanders may be distraught at the sight of Cotchery tearing up the slot and making nice plays. If all goes well, Jerricho could even be the same 3rd Down Converting Machine in Pittsburgh as he was in New York. I know I’m crossing my fingers for his success after the Jets let Jerricho go to put the poster child for gun control legislation on their team.
2. Donovan Warren
I know I’m not the only one in Steeler Nation asking this question, but here it is: Where the hell did this guy come from?! Warren has come out of nowhere to really shine this preseason, and his performance so far has made it tough on the Coaching Staff to consider cutting him. What I wanted to know is how a guy with his skill set ended up coming to the Steelers for almost nothing. Then I did a spot of research and found out exactly why. Warren had a great three year career at the University of Michigan where he eventually earned 1st Team All Big Ten honors in 2009. Yet the consensus opinion regarding why he came to the Steelers unheralded and for hardly anything was for three reasons. The first was his decision to forgo his Senior season at Michigan where he could have used another year of seasoning and honing his skill set before playing in the N.F.L.. The second was his slow 40 time at The Combine (4.59 according to NFL.com) which many feel destroyed his draft stock and led to him going totally undrafted. The final reason Donovan further hindered his nascent N.F.L. career was by signing with the Jets as a UDFA last season. The Jets were a team that was already deep at the CB position and had just selected CB Kyle Wilson in the 1st Round of The 2010 N.F.L. Draft. Thus, Warren was without a team for 2010 and could be had on the cheap due to some circumstances that may or may not have been in his control.
I however am not complaining that he took his 5’11″ 190 lb. frame to the Steel City. His play against both Washington and Philadelphia in terms of his coverage, closing speed, and tackling skills are really going to make it tough on the two Rookies, Gay, Lewis, and Butler to duke it out with him for the final roster spots during the rest of the preseason. Since I don’t think the Steelers will get rid of the Rookies (especially Allen who is an Ike Taylor project), Gay, Lewis, and Butler could find themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to making the roster. As I stated before in the Lewis excerpt, with Ike out and B-Mac questionable, Warren will definitely be getting his reps in real situations, and this could only serve to help him if he makes the most out of them. Warren should be watched closely the final two weeks, because he could really have an effect on how the final few roster spots in general are decided.
1. Tony Hills
If any of you thought that Tony Hills would be in the mix for a starting position on the 2011 O-Line, let alone a roster spot in general I’d be liable to call bullshit. Yet here we are, and Tony Hills is starting his 2nd consecutive game at Right Guard for the reigning A.F.C. Champions. As I discussed in my last article, Right Guard has become a position of great turnover for the Steelers during the last few seasons. Now it is Hills’ shot to shine after Chris Scott and Ramon Foster have turned in craptacular performances thus far in the preseason. If Hills can give any sort of consistent/decent play over the next two weeks he may be in line to steal this job. However, all we can do now is wait and hope that this Right Guard situation works itself out before Week 1 in Baltimore.
Hope you enjoyed my quick list. Those are just five of the many guys that I will be watching closely as the preseason draws to a close. If you would like to post some more Steelers that you are intrigued in, post them at the bottom and I will follow them too. I earnestly hope that Hills and Gilbert can surprise by turning in some stellar efforts on the already thin Offensive Line. Lord knows the Steelers will need some solid Offensive Line play to survive the difficult gauntlet known as their first seven games. Also, I hope that Lewis and Warren can really put it all together and help the secondary out with some solid play. The Steelers are going to need at least 5 CB’s that can play well at the drop of a hat when the regular season begins Anyways, keep a close eye out for these gents. tonight, and thanks for reading. Go Steelers!
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