Friday is finally here. Can you believe it? Steelers football is back and tonight the Steelers take on the Redskins in their first game of the 2011 season. Once again I will be doing my 7 things to watch segment before each and every game as I tell you the things that I will be paying close attention to. It is so easy during the preseason to just point to all of the draft picks that will play, but that is too obvious. Of course we all will be watching the new toys over the next few weeks, but Friday night we will likely only see 4 of the 7 in action Friday night. The roster is littered with undrafted players as well, but only a few have a legitimate shot of hanging around past week 3 of the preseason. The players I list below are the ones that I will be most focused on tonight.
Sophomore Backers – The Steelers defense thrives off of the play of the linebackers and it will be good to see just where Stevenson Sylvester and Jason Worilds are at now in their development. Sylvester reportedly has made a huge jump and is in tip-top shape, while Worilds seems like he might still be lagging behind. Both stand to contribute more in 2011 to spell James Farrior and James Harrison.
Keenan & Crezdon – It will be a long time until rookies Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen are ready to contribute outside of special teams, but this is the year that Crezdon Butler and Keenan Lewis could see some extended action. It is still unknown if Butler will play due to a quad strain, but Lewis should see plenty of work tonight. Lewis reportedly has had some bright spots in camp thus far and that needs top translate over to gameday. He seems to get frustrated easy and I suspect he will see quite a few passes his way. Now is the time for him to turn the proverbial corner in this his third season. Any progress out of Butler is a plus. He did have an interception last year in preseason against the Broncos and he could get some work at either the right corner or nickel spot tonight.
Great Scott\’s? – We very well could see Chris Scott open at right guard and Jonathan Scott open at left tackle tonight. Chris has been having a great camp by many reports and seems to be a legitimate contender for the spot that Ramon Foster closed the season at as the starter. Foster missed a few practices due to a mild concussion this week, so I suspect Chris will get quite a few snaps as this will be his first NFL game action. He spent most of the year on the PUP list and the rest on the year on the inactive list. Jonathan needs to start the preseason the way he finished last season. He had a good couple of games during the playoffs after a below average stretch once he took over for the injured Max Starks.
#2 Tight Battle Commences – Matt Spaeth is gone and now David Johnson and free agent John Gilmore look to do battle for the number two tight end spot. Johnson is more in the H-back mold, but has reportedly had a solid camp thus far working as an in-line tight end. Undrafted rookies Weslye Saunders and Jamie McCoy are dark horses in this battle, but could really help their causes with strong showings later in the game. The Steelers could very well turn to free agent Reggie Kelly as early as next week if nobody steps up tonight.
Dwyer Details – I know Jonathan Dwyer can carry the ball, but as I have mentioned several times it is how he plays without the ball that scares me to death. With Baron Batch now down with an ACL injury, Dwyer goes from outside the bubble to on the bubble. His conditioning has reportedly improved since the start of camp and he needs to show he can pick up the blitz and do the little things required to be a more complete back. I suspect he could get some special teams work and I will certainly be looking for him there if he does. I am not holding my breath and hopefully he proves me wrong.
Awesome Antonio? – Antonio Brown has been the one player that has really stood out in camp since the Steelers arrived in Latrobe according to reports. He has received some well needed work with Hines Ward and Emmanuel Sanders missing early time. He is said to be highly conditioned and now on the same page as the rest of the offense. He figures to get plenty of work throughout the night to show he has the little things worked out. While he did contribute his rookie season, there were times when he looked like he wasn\’t sure what he should be seeing or doing. We know he can run and catch, but like Dwyer, details make the difference. I am expecting to see it starting tonight.
Tyler Time? – This is the last shot for Tyler Grisham this preseason as I think he is ineligible now for the practice squad. He will likely get a few looks on returns and must catch everything thrown his way. He seems to have an outside shot at a 6th receiver spot, but needs to overtake Arnaz Battle who is a special team warrior. It\’s a tough climb and it begins tonight for him. There is no room for error and he must be on the details and stick out. He has to make himself unable to cut and that is not easy to do.
Game Prediction: Steelers 23 Redskins 20