Steelers rookie undrafted free agent running back Isaac Redman and punter Dan Sepulveda stole the show in the preseason opening 20-10 win Thursday night against the Arizona Cardinals at Heinz Field. Redman, from Bowie State, ran 10 times for 32 yards and 2 touchdowns in second half action. Redman began his uphill climb to make the Steelers roster as a short yardage specialist. Sepuldva saw his first game action since tearing his ACL last July and punted 6 times for a 43.8 yard average. He is a welcome return to the poor punting game the Steelers had in the 2008 season.
The Steelers starting offense only played 2 series with Ben Roethlisberger completing 4 of 6 passes for 33 yards. Tight end Heath Miller and veteran wide receiver Hines Ward combined for 3 catches. Second year running back Rashard Mendenhall started for Willie Parker, who was held out for precautionary reasons, finished with nine carries for 26 yards. Mendenhall looked tentative in his running style and did not run well behind the starting offensive line. Second year wide receiver Limas Sweed finished with two receptions for 56 yards, including a 45-yard reception, and looks to have made a statement in taking the number 3 receiver spot. Veteran free agent wide receiver Shaun McDonald led all receivers with 6 catches for 69 yards in an attempt to make the roster as the number 5 receiver. Second year quarterback, Dennis Dixon, shook of shaky start to go 10 for 19 and 112 yards passing. Rookie speedster, Mike Wallace, chipped in 2 catches for 35 yards, but looked sloppy in his route running. Wallace did return his one returnable kickoff 35 yards.
The Steelers offensive line did a better than average job all night. Doug Legursky started at center for injured Justin Hartwig and did a good job. Seventh-round draft pick A.Q. Shipley worked with the second team offensive line and held his own against the Cardinals second and third stringers. Undrafted free agent, Ramon Foster, worked at the second string left guard spot and played very well as did second year left tackle Tony Hills. Hills had been a disappointment early on in camp, but his play Thursday night shows some hope. The Steelers have questions marks on their offensive line depth and Foster looks like he might be a keeper. Rookie guard Kraig Urbik did not see much action and appears to still be a work in progress.
Defensively the Steelers looked sluggish, but tightened up and stopped the Cardinals when it counted. Linebacker LaMarr Woodley recorded a sack and first round draft pick Ziggy Hood had a decent showing as well, but did miss some assignments. The night got off to a shaky start for rookie corner Joe Burnett. Burnett fumbled a punt return, but later redeemed himself as he intercepted a Brian St. Pierre pass in the second half that led to a Steeler touchdown. Linebacker Bruce Davis intercepted a pass and made a few plays on defense. It is evident based on the Thursday night performance that the defense is still rounding into shape.
Special teams looked good. In addition to the punting of Sepuldva, place kicker Jeff Reed drilled a 50-yard field goal for the games opening score. Camp kicker, Piotr Czech, added a 44 yard field goal with 1:46 left in the game, but missed a chip shot early in the second half. The punt and kickoff coverage was very acceptable.
Injury wise the Steelers came out of the game injury free except for the normal bumps and bruises. Starting defensive end, Brett Keisel, was held out of the game for precautionary reason after getting kicked in the calf in practice this week. Head coach, Mike Tomlin said he liked the effort tonight from the young guys in his post game press conference. The Steelers play the Washington Redskins next Saturday at FedEx Field.