Back to the drawing board…
With final cut down to our official 53 man roster looming on Saturday, last night was basically the final chance for players on the bubble to prove they belong on the 2010 edition of the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was also a chance to gain some clarity on several of the position battles waging through camp. And after sixty minutes in the Mile High City, we’ve learned exactly nothing.
Quarterback – Ben Roethlisberger played the first quarter, moving the team effectively and looking sharp with his throws. Watching Big Ben and then the two wannabes to his position left me with only two questions. How rusty will he get while sitting in timeout the first month of the season? And will the team still be remotely in contention when he gets back?
Dennis Dixon got his first meaningful snaps of the preseason. Nothing like waiting til the last minute, Tomlin. Dix had an up and down game. He threw two picks, one a horrifically bad decision on a throw into the end zone. But he also made some nice throws, including a bullet fired between two defenders and a sweet deep out to Hines Ward. The coaching staff was clearly testing him with a variety of patterns and he seemed to have a good grasp of the offense, even though he still has the young player tendency to force things when they’re not there.
The best part of Dixon’s game was his elusiveness. And he needed it because defenders were flying in at him left and right. He mostly used his legs to step up and try to deliver to a receiver but he did have a 29 yard scramble. By my count, he prevented at least four sacks with his ability to move around the pocket.
Then came Byron Leftwich. Byron attempted four passes and misfired on all of them. He was hit on each and every drop back. This was against the second and third string defensive players, mind you. Granted, our first string line would likely protect him (somewhat) better but it’s he better be made of iron if he hopes to survive an entire game because he’s going to take a beating.
I’ve been pretty clear I’m on Team Dixon in the Great QB Controversy of 2010. However, I really didn’t like anything I saw yesterday. This team is going to struggle badly without Ben because neither option is looking particularly attractive. At this point, the choice is down to weighing whether Dixon’s potential for bonehead mistakes is better or worse than Leftwich’s potential for taking a 15 yard sack every time he drops back.
Running Back – Rashard Mendenhall does not have a broken arm. Let’s just put that rumor to rest. Jonathan Dwyer had his best showing thus far but it was against fourth stringers so I wouldn’t put much stock in it. Still, I think he showed enough to edge Frank Summers, who has shown nothing, for the final RB spot. Mewelde Moore and Issac Redman will be the other two.
Wide Receiver – Wallace, Ward, Randle-El, and Battle are locks. Emmanuel Sanders had a couple nice catches but he also dogged some plays, one of which resulted in an INT. The amount they use him shows he’s making the team but these mental errors will probably make the coaches question his position on the depth chart.
Antonio Brown was an absolute bust on kickoffs, making a particularly dumb decision to fair catch a ball inside his own 5. I’m leaning toward Stefan Logan getting that job back because you just can’t put your team in a hole like that. Brown has potential but is still pretty raw. They’ll try to sneak him on the practice squad.
Offensive Line – Brutally bad again. Flozell Adams had two false starts and kept getting beat off the edge on pass protection. He’s slow and uncoordinated and is just a disaster waiting to happen. They kept the TE in on a lot of passing plays to help him out because they clearly don’t trust him one-on-one.
The good news is Maurkice Pouncey started at center and other than blowing a couple run blocking assignments, seemed to handle things quite well. The knifing pressure up the middle on runs was mostly gone with him in there. I think he’s established himself enough that he’ll start there from this point forward.
This gives us a (right to left) Adams-Trai Essex-Pouncey-Kemo-Starks line. Essex was also beaten a couple times, although if that was due to missed assignments or just his ineptness is hard to tell. Regardless, the right side of the line is a definite concern.
Doug Legursky can play center in a pinch with Jonathan Scott the best option if The Hotel is demolished. Tony Hills and Ramon Foster have shown they can be decent back-ups. Adding in long snapper Greg Warren, that gives us ten linemen. I can’t see them keeping eleven unless they go with only two TEs (Miller and Spaeth…David Johnson is the third but I think they’ll keep him as a TE/FB hybrid).
Which means Justin Hartwig may have played his last game in the Black and Gold.
Defense – Tomlin’s face in the above clip says it all. A sloppy, undisciplined game by all involved. Tons of bad penalties and lazy mistakes. James Farrior only played a couple plays after he got faceplanted and left with a huge gash.
B-Mac was nursing an injury so Keenan Lewis started in his place. He played a terrible game. Not only did he play five yards off every receiver, he got turned around in coverage several times and missed tackles. To add insult to injury, he took two stupid personal foul penalties which aided Denver drives.
Dick LeBeau is said to be high on him but he does not look ready for primetime. Meanwhile, Willie Gay had an, are you sitting down, interception. So he’s locked up the nickel spot with B-Mac starting by default. Burnett and Lewis will back them up. Rookie Crezdon Butler had a pick so it looks like he’ll edge out special teams ace Anthony Madison for the final secondary spot (assuming they keep nine linebackers. Otherwise, rookie Thaddeus Gibson will probably be snuck on to the practice squad).
Mike Tomlin declared this preseason game a “dress rehearsal” for the regular season. Hopefully when the real thing starts, we’ll see a lot better play than we saw yesterday. While discussing depth charts and who will be the primary return man is fun, unless we get a lot better play from our starting defense and quarterback, not much of it is going to matter in the long run.