The Steelers head to Carolina tomorrow to take on the Panthers and Cam Newton’s sub 50% completion percentage. Why Carolina decided to draft Newton instead of Dareus or somebody else is beyond me. Anyways, before I go off on a tangent about why spread QB’s are ill suited for the N.F.L. game, let’s get to the matter at hand: the Steelers are playing their final preseason game and the final cuts will be made on Saturday September 3rd. Since this will be their last game-time opportunity to prove something to the Coaching Staff, look for those with the most to lose to be giving all they got. And as we all know, stepping one’s game up just a notch when the pressure is on can be the difference between a guy either making the team/not making the team, or a guy earning a starting spot/riding the pine pony. So much like last week, I thought I’d make a list of five guys that I will be keeping my eye on tomorrow that have quite a bit riding on their performances in the Steelers’ final preseason game.
5. Weslye Saunders
When I had heard that the Steelers had signed Weslye Saunders as a UDFA, I felt a strange mix of excitement yet uneasiness settle over me. While he had gotten into some trouble in college and been suspended during his final season, I was aware of what a physical specimen he was and that he could be a sleeper in terms of making an impact down the road for the Steelers. Saunders is currently in a battle with John Gilmore for the 3rd TE spot behind Pro Bowler Heath Miller and H-Back/TE Dennis Johnson. Even with a big game against the Panthers, word is that Saunders might still be destined for the Practice Squad. I believe that this aforementioned notion of placing Saunders on the practice squad is justifiable and intelligent. Saunders could spend an entire season honing his blocking skills and developing himself further as an all-around TE and then be ready by 2012 to challenge for the #2 spot. However, I’m personally afraid that Weslye might not make it through waivers if he is indeed cut, because some teams out there might be willing to take the gamble on a tremendous college talent and be willing to steal him if he is indeed released. It will be up to the Coaching Staff to decide what Saunders’ fate is, I just hope that if he is let go he doesn’t end up biting the Steelers in the future.
4. Doug Legursky
Everybody’s favorite Goal Line Fullback will be getting the starting nod tomorrow. I thought Tony Hills did a decent enough job against the Falcons last week at Right Guard to warrant another start, but I do like the move here by the Coaching Staff. Since this is a meaningless game in terms of the outcome, the Steelers might as well see if their top Interior O-Line backup can prove himself at Right Guard and possibly perform better than Hills. Plus, even if Leggo doesn’t end up panning out at RG, the Steelers will have at least seen him in action there and know what he can be capable of if he is needed in the regular season. Therefore, the Steelers have little to lose, and a lot to gain with this move. Unlike some of the others on this list, Leggo will undoubtedly have a roster spot as a top backup due to his versatility at C/G, and thus not have to worry if he performance isn’t up to par. However, Leggo my be getting his best shot so far in his 4th season to start full-time on the O-Line tomorrow. So, keep a close eye out for Leggo Steeler Nation, and look for him to try and take advantage of his chance.
3. Crezdon Butler
After sitting out the Philadelphia game two weeks ago with a quad injury, and with Lewis and Warren turning in solid performances, it was looking like Crezdon might be seeking employment elsewhere in 2011. That all changed last Saturday, because Butler had a fantastic game (including a Pick-6) and worked himself right back into the backup-CB mix. He was probably targeted more than any other Steeler CB against Atlanta, and held his own in terms of coverage. What Crezdon impressed me the most with was his ability to tackle the receivers (9 Tackles), and limit their Y.A.C. all night long. Awesome game aside, Crezdon contributed basically nothing on the field in 2010, and still has much to prove to the Coaching Staff and organization in general. Moreover, he is still facing challenges from the four other backup CB’s vying for playing time and a roster spot. This week should be enormous for young Crezdon and his play in practice and the game must be impeccable to say the least. Hopefully he can rise to the occasion and force the Steelers to cut the douchebag that I have listed at #1.
2. Manny Sanders
Word around the grapevine is that Manny Sanders may be able to play tomorrow against the Panthers. This opportunity for him to play, coupled with Cotchery sitting out this week, couldn’t come a moment too soon for Manny. Due to his bum foot, Sanders has sat and watched all of training camp and the preseason from the bench while “Young Money” Brown and Cotchery have been tearing up the slot position. If Manny is allowed to play, look for him to really try and earn his spot back in the rotation, because precious playing time is on the line between him and the two aforementioned WR’s. Hopefully Manny can get himself healthy, and back in the mix so the Steelers will have themselves three fantastic options for the slot position come opening day. I’m looking for Manny to come out like a bat out of hell if he does indeed play this week, because his playing time and possible future with the team depends on his ability to stay healthy.
1. William Gay
While I will be watching William Gay closely, it doesn’t mean I can’t cover my eyes at times to avoid having to sit through replays of him getting tooled either in coverage or him attempting to tackle like a 10 year old on a consistent basis. Gay will have the heat on him tomorrow after the other CB’s have decided to step up their games over the last few weeks. Despite the fact that I think Gay will remain on the roster, I’m honestly shocked and appalled that he has lasted this long in Pittsburgh. I guess the Coaching Staff is content enough with his “inconsistent at best” play. The only thing working in Gay’s favor in terms of him sticking around is his experience in Dick “Father Time” Lebeau’s Defense. Yet I must ask, “What good is experience if a guy has played in a system for four seasons, yet has shown time and time again throughout his career that he will be nothing above a below average Dime back?” Gay is probably the worst tackler of the CB bunch, but that’s an aspect of his game that I can live with. I mean not many CB’s in the league are as solid tacklers as Ike and B-Mac, let alone decent tacklers in general. What makes my bowels void and brain want to explode is that over the last two seasons Gay has been constantly harassed by TE’s and solid 3rd and 4th receiving options that continuously hand him his lunch week after week. If I’m an O.C. on a team that has a solid O-Line, I’m abandoning the run immediately, forcing the Steelers into their Nickel and Dime packages, and having my QB target the guys Gay is responsible for covering close to 20 times.
If you can’t already tell, I think the Steelers should at least consider cutting ties with William, and think about giving the young guys a shot if the Coaching Staff feels that they are worthy. Honestly, Gay has played four seasons in the league, has likely reached his ceiling in terms of talent, and he’s still a liability. Also, just leaving the young guys to rot on the bench will do them and the team as a whole no good if they can do at least a comparable job to Gay. I personally don’t feel that they could do any worse of a job. Plus who knows? Maybe throwing them in the fire will make them respond. But as of right now the Nickel role is still Gay’s, and he will probably enter the season as the 3rd CB on the depth chart because of his experience that purportedly puts him leaps and bounds ahead of the other guys. So instead of complaining more, I’ll just look at this situation as a positive. If Gay ends up turning it around, great! If he doesn’t, maybe the Coaching Staff will be willing to get that new blood into the game and Gay will be gone come 2012 and the Steelers D can combat 4 WR sets better with some of their other CB’s.
Well that wraps up my list. With Final Cuts being made on Saturday it will be a fight to the finish for many who have poured their blood, sweat, and tears into trying to be a part of the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers over the last month/month and a half. Here’s hoping the Steelers can finish strong against Carolina and take the positive success of three straight preseason victories into The Charm City and kick some tail. Go Steelers!
Be sure to follow me on Facebook (Dominic DiTolla) and on twitter @DomDiTolla