By Matthew Marczi
Below is a list of random notes and observations from the second half during the second preseason game for the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Washington Redskins.
- As noted in the game recap, Al Woods took the second-team reps at nose tackle, a clear signal that the Steelers in no way intend to carry both Alameda Ta’amu and Hebron Fangupo after they carrying three nose tackles for a few years. It is also worth mentioning that Woods stays in at defensive end along with Cameron Heyward in the nickel.
- If a seventh defensive lineman is carried this year, my money is still on Brian Arnfelt. It will be hard to deny him if he continues to make tackles in the backfield.
- With Stevenson Sylvester still nursing an ankle injury, it was Brian Rolle playing second-team inside linebacker along with Marshall McFadden. In the first preseason game, linebackers coach Keith Butler elected to keep Rolle paired with Kion Wilson and let the younger backers play first.
- It is pretty obvious that Ross Ventrone is the sixth safety on the roster right now and has virtually no chance, barring injury, of making the team. However, running into the return man certainly did not earn himself any bonus points, even if he did make a nice special teams tackle later in the game following two miscues by the punt return unit as a whole.
- I continue to be pleased with the development of reserve interior lineman John Malecki. He once again commanded the second-team unit at center, and for some stretches, he controlled the middle of the field. He seems to play with more strength at center than at guard, although in fairness, he was playing alongside weaker competition while in at guard against the New York Giants. I was especially pleased to see how he worked with left guard Chris Hubbard on double-team blocks.
- Unlike in the first half, Jamie McCoy spent time playing all over the field, playing 30 or so snaps in the second half, and lined up in all different positions: in the backfield; on the line; shading off the line; pulling from the line. His versatility will help his chances of making the team.
- Along with rookie Markus Wheaton, Derek Moye was the receiver of the day, catching three passes for 31 yards, including one for a touchdown. Most impressive, however, was his catch before the touchdown, when he stayed on his feet to fight for extra yardage to make it a third and one.
- On that touchdown pass, it is worth mentioning that Chris Hubbard does a nice job of picking up the blitz of linebacker Bryan Kehl. Kehl earlier beat right guard Guy Whimper cleanly on the same blitz for a sack.
- Whimper, not to be outdone by his starting counterparts, also made good by negating a third down conversion for Wheaton by being flagged for illegal use of hands to the face.
- Unfortunately for Jamie McCoy, there were two passes that he did not catch that he could have had. Of course, Nathan Overbay, Michael Palmer, and Peter Tuitupou do not even get targeted to have a chance to drop a pass.
- I recently mentioned in an article that rookie safety Shamarko Thomas was “adept at playing the slot”, and one reader questioned the validity of such a statement for a rookie. May I submit as exhibit A, the third down and eight play with 10:55 remaining in the fourth quarter. Thomas is in the slot tight against the line with the receiver dropped back. The receiver attempts a fake to the outside before cutting in, but Thomas fails to bite on the misdirection. He ends up making a solid tackle after two yards.
- Markus Wheaton still has some work to do when it comes to his off-the-ball responsibilities, whether on special teams or in the run game as a blocker. But he has the can-do spirit to become proficient in those areas, and I fully expect him to become an adequate blocker for the position in time.
- Both Terry Hawthorne and Robert Golden missed tackles on the first significant punt return. Hawthorne was the first man down there, but the returner made a move on him to avoid contact. He cut inside too far in his tackle attempt, which gave the returner the door to the outside of the field, which was Hawthorne’s responsibility. Of course, had he made the play, we would be telling a different story.
- On the Nick Williams sack midway through the fourth quarter, the Steelers showed six, and this time, they actually brought six. The Redskins also left in six to block, but the Steelers won every individual battle. Right outside linebacker Adrian Robinson was in first, beating the left tackle to the corner and flushing Pat White up into the pocket. Kion Wilson swam clean through the running back with a bead on the quarterback, but White was able to flush left quick enough to avoid him. When Williams saw him coming his way, however, he simply shoved the left guard back to clean up the play for a five-yard loss on third down.
- Ta’amu may still have quite a bit of work left to do, but it is still nice to see him flash the ability to make a play with an individual effort every now and then, something that he did not show at all last preseason. He is clearly more athletic and in shape than he was a year ago.
- The 30-yard touchdown run was set up by poor safety play. When you know that you have an option quarterback in the game, you always watch the ball. Robert Golden ran straight to his assignment in the backfield, and by the time he realized that it was a handoff, he was too far outside to recover. Pre-snap, Golden observes tight end Niles Paul come off the line and shade into the backfield, and communicates to Ross Ventrone that he will cover him. Accordingly, Ventrone would have to shade inside more. After Golden fails to come off his coverage of Paul quick enough, Ventrone is still too far outside to make anything but a diving tackle attempt at the back’s feet, who otherwise walks in untouched.
- Reggie Dunn got about as much as he possibly could on every touch during this game. And he did well. But with roster spots at a premium, he needs to do even more to really have a chance of making the team.