The final preseason game for the Pittsburgh Steelers is here as they take on the Carolina Panthers Thursday night at Heinz Field.
While a good amount of the starters won\’t see much, if any, playing time in the game, there are still roster spots up for grabs and plenty of things to watch for to keep this game interesting.
Below are my 10 things to watch for Thursday night.
Woods Bryant IV? – This battle has lived up to the billing I gave it prior to training camp starting and in my eyes there really has been no clear cut winner as of yet. Both Al Woods and Corbin Bryant have looked good through the first three preseason games and the Thursday game sets the stage for a continuation of this great battle. The Steelers claimed Woods off waivers last season, and while he never saw a snap on defense, he held a spot on the roster the entire time. Bryant was on the practice squad for most of last season and only saw action in one regular season game against the Arizona Cardinals before being waived and resigned to the practice squad again. There is no guarantee that either will make the 53 man roster as the Steelers could decide to go with just 6 defensive lineman to start the season due to all of the injured players they need to carry on the roster, but the overall odds say that they will keep 7 with either Woods or Bryant being that player. Bryant has practice squad eligibility, but Woods doesn\’t, and that might very well play into the final decision if neither is a clear cut winner after this game.
Snack Time? – Head coach Mike Tomlin said on Tuesday that there is a chance that nose tackle Casey Hampton could play Thursday night after having a good week of practice. Hampton has almost made it back from a torn ACL and a elbow procedure and it will be interesting to see if he actually does get some snaps against the Panthers. In the end, it would not surprise me to see Tomlin decide ultimately to hold him out as a precaution, but if he does get some snaps, I wouldn\’t expect it to be many.
Sorry Charlie? – Tomlin would not indicate what the quarterback rotation or amount of playing time, if any, that Ben Roethlisberger or Byron Leftwich will get against the Panthers, but he did say that Charlie Batch will play a lot. It is not out the question that this could be the last time fans get to see Batch in a Steelers jersey as the team might decide to carry just Roethlisberger and Leftwich and place rookie Jerrod Johnson on the practice squad because of all of the injured players they are carrying. First and foremost, let\’s just hope he can make it through the game healthy.
Specialer Teams – New special teams coach Amos Jones has now had over a week to make whatever changes he deemed needed to be made to improve what has been a dismal performance on both the kickoff and punt teams. The Steelers lost Mortty Ivy this week to a hamstring injury and he had been seeing quite a bit of time on these units prior to being waived injured. What new faces might we see early in the game, and more importantly, how will changes improve things on special teams?
Coo coo ca choo Mr. Robinson - The Steelers activated both James Harrison and Jason Worilds from the PUP list this past week, but there is no guarantee that either will be ready for a full load of work in the opener. Also expected to be sidelined against Denver is Stevenson Sylvester. Both Sylvester and Worilds were expected to contribute quite a bit this year on special teams. Although unlikely, it is still not out of the question that the Steelers could carry 10 linebackers to start the season. Undrafted free agent Adrian Robinson has shown what he can do as far as rushing the passer, but he has failed to do anything on special teams. If he is to make the initial 53 man roster, he needs some help and needs to help himself by flashing this week on special teams. Pay close attention early on in this game to see if he gets opportunities and if he is able to make an impact.
Damon Versus Golden – Robert Golden certainly didn\’t hurt his chances last week with a nice interception in his attempt to make the 53 man roster as a 5th safety. Much like Robinson, he really needs to make an impact on special teams this week. Damon Cromartie-Smith has been his only competition for a potential 5th spot and he figures to play the strong safety spot beside Golden when the two enter the game after Ryan Mundy and Will Allen exit. Special teams is the emphasis here, so look for both early and often on these units to show why they deserve that final roster spot.
Adams\’ Eve – Mike Adams had a great rebound game last week and showed promise. He needs to prove against the Panthers that last week was not a fluke as he figures to get considerable playing time early in the game. Adams looked to be much more relaxed last week and like the pressure of being the starter was no longer on his shoulders. His footwork and handwork still need improvement and this final preseason game figures to be his last snaps on offense in an NFL game for at least a little while baring any more injuries.
Pope For The Day – If Heath Miller plays at all, it won\’t be much, so we can expect to see Leonard Pope play quite a bit as the number one tight end. In addition, he could use some snaps at fullback as he figures to be the backup to Will Johnson at the position. Pope is a big man and his problems in the blocking department are a result of not having a low enough pad level. He knows the offense inside and out, but his quality of play must improve.
How Low Can Ta\’amu Go? – Rookie Alameda Ta\’amu hasn\’t seen a lot of playing time thus far in the preseason as he has only seen the field in the base defense. During his snaps he has been far from impressive and he needs to do a better job at staying low and anchoring better against double teams. You can tell that the rookie is still trying to learn the 3-4 nose tackle position, so every rep he gets is golden right now. He is nowhere close to being ready to contribute on a full or part time basis, but any good snap he has is a step in the right direction.
Bench The Doctors – Injuries happen. The Steelers have had their share of them, but outside of the loss of David Johnson, David DeCastro and Sylvester, knock on wood, there haven\’t been a lot of them. Make no mistake, the loss of both Johnson and DeCastro are huge, but things certainly could have been worse. The Steelers can win without those two players and there is a possibility that DeCastro might make it back later on in the season depending on how his surgery went. Hopefully it is a quick night for any of the starters that play and hopefully the injury bug is done biting.