Sunday night the Steelers will travel to Denver to play the Broncos in the third preseason game of the 2010 season. Per my normal routine, I have listed below 10 things to look for Sunday heading into the game.
Brown Sanders Flip Flop X & Z – The education of rookie wide receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders continues this week as both will play their opposite positions this week as Brown moves from the z flanker position to the x split end spot and Sanders moves from split end X spot to the Z flanker position. Sanders mostly played the slot and flanker in college and looks to be the heir apparent to Hines Ward down the line and the number 3 receiver in the nearer future. It should be noted that Brown will also get his second look in as many weeks as the return man on both punts and kickoffs.
Hartwig Playing Time – Yes, I know Maurkice Pouncey will start at center and we certainly will be watching that first and foremost, but we are more curious to see if Justin Hartwig comes in as the number 2 center or gets any work at guard. If Hartwig is destined to be released next week, one would think he may not get any snaps versus Denver, so that he does not run the risk of injury and be forced to be placed on IR or released with an injury settlement. If Hartwig does play, he might actually still be in the running for a backup roster spot. Do the Steelers really need to see him play though? I don\’t think so. We will be snap counting, but expect Pouncey and Doug Legursky to get most of the center work and for Hartwig to keep his uniform clean.
Is There A Long Snapping Battle? – Out of nowhere the Steelers re-signed Matt Stewart last week. Stewart was with the Steelers prior to training camp and also has spent time working at linebacker in the NFL. Mike Tomlin said Friday that Stewart will get an in-game look against Denver as a long snapper and was brought in as competition and to push Greg Warren. By all reports, the veteran Warren is pretty concerned about Stewart being brought back as well. Tomlin said he wanted to carry Stewart in training camp, but injuries forced them to need the roster spot early on and thus Stewart was released. Stewart is much more mobile and a better tackler that Warren and it could signal the end to the injury prone Warren if Stewart proves he can snap flawlessly on punts and kick tries. Watch for any work Stewart gets on other special teams units besides just long snapping.
Quirky QB Rotation – I do not pretend to understand what method is behind the quarterback rotation that Mike Tomlin is expected to use against Denver. Normally the 3rd preseason game is a dress rehearsal for week 1 of the season, but Tomlin said Friday that Ben Roethlisberger, Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon will all see time with the first team Sunday night. Early word is that Roethlisberger will start and Dixon will follow, but none of this is locked in stone. Stay tuned.
Do We Get Another Look At The Pony? – Bruce Arians showed us the pony backfield of Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman last week against the Giants and we will be looking to see if it makes another appearance again Sunday night. The pony backfield opens up the play book to several different possibilities if indeed used going into the season.
Robo-Kicker II “Thin Air Beware” – Steelers punter Daniel Sepulveda got his first chance to kickoff last week versus New York and all signs point to him getting a second chance in the thin air of Denver. Hopefully Danny Boy kicks them all out of the endzone in the Mile High City.
Keenan Getting Keener – Bryant McFadden will sit out this week with a right pectoral muscle injury suffered agains the Giants and second year corner Keenan Lewis will start at left cornerback in his spot. Lewis continues to make a huge jump and looks to make a statement Sunday that he is NFL ready. He is still not expected to jump McFadden on the depth chart, but is right on the heels of BMac and continues to push him.
Free Safety Replacements – Starting free safety Ryan Clark will sit out as a precaution because of his sickle cell issue, so Will Allen and Ryan Mundy will share plenty of time at free safety opposite Troy Polamalu. Both Allen and Mundy have had great camps and the extra time will do them both good with the first team defense.
Hotel Getting Right On The Right – Free agent tackle Flozell Adams is slowly making the transition from left tackle to right tackle and it shows in his pass blocking. Hopefully another week of practice and study will show some improvement against the Denver pass rush. The season is getting closer and the Hotel is running out of practice snaps to get it right on the right side.
Is That You Jonathan? – Rookie running back Jonathan Dwyer is expected to return to game action this week as he has been practicing all week after sitting out the Giants game with a shoulder injury. I think he is playing for a practice squad spot at this point and needs to show late in the Denver game what he has learned thus far if indeed given any snaps.