For clarity, I am covering this weekend’s game for WJET 24 in Erie, PA and thus won’t be giving any predictions or biased insight into the game. Follow me on Twitter @acpregler for pre-game and postgame updates.
The Steelers season has not been pretty the last eight weeks. Since starting 6-2 the team is doing their best 2006 impression and falling down the divisional and conference standings. Playing only for pride and draft status, the Steelers would be wise to keep key players out of extended action seeing that last season’s finale saw Rashard Mendenhall tear his ACL. Thus, this game will feel like a slightly more competitive pre season game but that doesn’t mean it’s meaningless. Remember that “meaningless” game in Buffalo in 2004 that saw Willie Parker earn his spot on the 2005 team and jump start his career? Here are three guys I look to attempt to make an impact this game and audition for 2013.
Chris Rainey: If there is anyone who screams Willie Parker 2.0 it’s Rainey. Unlike Parker, he is also a dynamic kick returner thus making him more valuable to the team and likely to be on the 2013 roster no matter what. I really think the offensive scheme misused him this year, telegraphic every sweep, pitch and end around he got to play in. It takes at least a season for speed guys like Rainey to grab the NFL game and develop vision between the tackles and learn how to avoid being tackled. I think Mendenhall, Dwyer and Readman all see reduced action this week and Rainey gets his chance to make his case as a legitimate NFL back.
Kelvin Beachum: I was one of the loudest critics of Beachum going into the Baltimore game that his performance quieted. Ramon Foster has played well this season but Beachum’s ability to step up against the Ravens as a rookie had to have grabbed the attention of the coaching staff. If Beachum gets the chance to play, the Steelers could be looking at a three rookies (DeCastro and Adams are the others) that could legitimately stabilize the Steelers’ offensive line moving into 2013 and well beyond. The best part about Beachum’s situation is that the scenario above is not expected of him but after this week, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if it does.
Stevenson Sylvester: The most pressing linebacker need for the Steelers is outside linebacker and replacing James Harrison who may be gone after this season. However, I fully expect that need to be met in the draft. Replacing Larry Foote, who has played very well this year but older than Harrison, is another crucial need that may not get filled in the draft. Sylvester, already in his third year on the team, should get the chance to play and prove if he can be the man opposite Timmons to hold the fort in the middle. Sylvester has shown flashes of consistent NFL ability but never been handed the reins and told “win your position.” That needs to change this week.