Thursday, August 13, 2009
Preseason Game # 1
Football returns to the city of champions tonight with the Steelers' first preseason game of the year in a rematch of the Superbowl against the Arizona Cardinals. The game will be on ESPN at 8 PM EST, but if you are tuning in to see the stars play, plan on watching from 8 till about 8:15. After that the first teamers won't be seeing the field. Although Ben, Hines, Troy and Deebo won't be on the field very long, there are some other good reasons to watch tonight. This will be the first time alot of Steeler Nation will get to witness many of the camp battles playing out. It will also be the first time we get to see the new draftees on the field and observe how injured players who missed most of the season last year are recovering from their injuries. Some stuff to watch for tonight:
1) Third wide receiver battle.
The battle for the third wide receiver spot is shaping up to be one of the most competitive at camp. Limas Sweed, last years' second round pick that many thought to be the steal of the draft should be the odds on favorite to win the job. However, mixed reviews have been emanating from Latrobe on Sweed. Combine that with the increased competition for the spot with the addition of Shaun McDonald through free agency and Mike Wallace via a third round draft choice and it is not so clear any longer that Sweed will win this job.
Shaun McDonald has been likened to a poor man's Wes Welker on some Steeler blogs. In 2007, for the Lions mind you, he put up 79 catches for 943 yards and 6 TD's. Reports have indicated that he is having a solid camp. If he can play the slot at anywhere near the level of Welker, he will be an amazing signing and a great additional option for Ben. I would love to see the Steelers add more quick slants to their offense to cut down on the blitzing and the hits that Ben takes and take some defenders out of the box to create more lanes for our running backs. Even if McDonald does not win the third receiver job, I still thinks he makes it as either the 4th or 5th receiver and lines up in the slot. The Steelers normally use the third wide out to stretch the field running deep routes like Nate did for us last year. Limas and Mike Wallace seem to fit that role better than McDonald. Speaking of Wallace...
The Steelers drafted Wallace in the third round of this year's draft. Everyone that has seen him practice has been blown away with his speed. It would surprise me if he wins the job outright but it won't surprise me to see him on the field alot this season. I can't wait to see him tonight blowing by people.
Other guys to watch for are Dallas Baker, who has been on the practice sqaud for a few years, and Tyler Grisham out of Clemson, who was signed as an undrafted free agent and has been turning some heads at practice. For another look at our potential wide outs, check out Post Game Heroes, here.
With Darnell Stapleton going down with an injury, the battle to back him up/replace him is heating up. Surprisingly, Trai Essex seems to be having an outstanding camp so far and could beat out Stapleton. Rookie Kraig Urbik has not lived up to expectations so far and has been consistently getting dominated by the Steelers D in practice. Other things to watch for tonight and throughout the preseason are the backup battles. AQ Shipley and Legursky are battling to backup Hartwig at Center and with him out with injury they should be seeing alot of playing time. Also, undrafted free agent signing Ramon Foster has been getting alot of positive press. Perpetual project Tony Hills needs to impress if he wants to stay on the squad.
Finally, watch Willie Colon and decide for yourself whether he is one of the best or one of the worst tackles in the league.
3) Players returning from injury.
The two most important are punter Daniel Sepulveda returning from an ACL tear on his non-kicking leg and Rashard Mendenhall returning from a broken shoulder suffered at the hands of Ray Lewis. Anyone who watched us last year knows our punting was awful and Sepulveda will be a much needed improvement. He has been booming them in practice. Imagine how great our D could be with great field position. As PFT points out, Mendenhall is still an enigma. How he plays this season will go a long way in determining whether Willie Parker is signed after the season.
4) The return man battle.
Our return game has been terrible ever since Antwann Randle-El left us for the Redskins. Rookies Joe Burnett and Mike Wallace look to add a much needed spark to the returns and hopefully can provide us with decent starting field position. Read this Post Gazette article for more.
5) Backup QB
Batch is the crowd favorite but take a good look at Dennis Dixon tonight. He should be getting alot of time on the field. Don't forget he was a serious contender for the Heisman and would have got drafted a lot higher if he didn't get injured in Oregon's bowl game.
I am excited to be getting back into football. Go Steez.