Thursday, August 13, 2009

Preseason Gameday 1: Arizona Cardinals

Pittsburgh West
Heinz Field

As great as it was, the 2008 season is over.

Stairway to Seven begins tonight.

It's the preseason, so the starters won't see much time. But the starters aren't what the preseason is about. The preseason is about falling in love with a player you may have never heard of before, and watching him come out of obscurity to make the team.

Nate Washington made the team that way. So did Gary Russell and Carey Davis.

We're quite excited about the group of young guys that we'll be seeing tonight. Here's a what we're looking for:

1. No injuries.

As Gene Collier pointed out today in the Post-Gazette, the biggest victory in a preseason game is having your players escape without injury. A few starters (Willie Parker, Casey Hampton, Troy Polamalu, LaMarr Woodley) have had a few dings in camp, and might not see the field tonight. If they do, it won't be for more than 2 series.

2. Mike Wallace

Everything we've heard so far is that this dude can fly. We're still looking for a nickname for him, so if anyone comes up with anything good, we're all ears. Wallace will be the #1 KR tonight.

3. Wide Receiver Depth

Coming into camp, the #3 spot was slated to be the biggest battle of camp, between Limas Sweed, Mike Wallace, Shaun McDonald, and others. Practice is one thing, gameplay is another. Sweed has been snagging everything thrown his way in camp so far, and we're pulling for him to have a big game tonight. McDonald is a veteran with good hands and solid experience who would provide stability. Wallace? He's fast.

4. Running backs

With Fast Willie suffering from a sore back, Rashard Mendenhall might get the start tonight. Expect Mendenhall to see a lot of carries. Hopefully he can return to his strong running style he showed last year before he got injured. Frank "The Tank" Summers had a rough start to camp, but he's been making solid improvements and we're excited to see what he can bring to the table in short yardage situations. Isaac Redman (Bowie State) scored twice in goal line drills, and it will be interesting to see if he can play into the mix. CFL standout Stefan Logan has been used all over the field by the Steelers in practice, and he has one of the quickest bursts some people have ever seen. Some say he's 0-to-60 in 3 steps.

5. O-Line

The starting O-line may see a little more time tonight, as Trai Essex steps in at guard due to Stapleton's injury. If Justin Hartwig sits (toe), Doug Legursky will get the start at center and we will get to see plenty of hometown star AQ Shipley. The Steelers also signed former Ohio State center Alex Stepanovich for depth on the line. At tackle, Starks and Colon are the obvious starters, but it's going to be interesting to see what the guys behind him bring. Tony Hills was drafted last season and the Steelers are looking for improvement from him this season. Jason Capizzi from IUP is a mammoth man and has spent time on the team before. Third round pick Kraig Urbik can play both guard and tackle, and may see time at both tonight.
6. Ziggy Hood

We all know what the D-line brings. Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, Chris Hoke, Travis Kirschke, and Nick Eason are all seasoned vets. Hood, this year's first round draft pick, has been working closely with Aaron Smith and even spending time after practice hitting the blocking sleds. Gotta love that type of effort from your first-round draft pick and it will be exciting to see what he can do tonight.
7. Linebacker Depth

Harrison, Woodley, Timmons and Farrior might be the best 3-4 linebacking unit in the league. If they're not the best, they're in the top 3. Special teams standout from last year Keyaron Fox is the #1 backup inside. Last year's 3rd round pick Bruce Davis has something to prove on the outside, and he should be out for blood. Reigning Rookie of the Year (and one of our favorites) Patrick Bailey is in the mix at outside linebacker, his natural position after playing as a 4-3 end at Duke. Bailey was stellar on kick coverage last year, and one has to wonder, with his intelligence and abilities, if he might be able to play ILB as well (we think he can). Andre Frazier and Arnold Harrison have both had injury issues over the past few years, but are talented special teams players, and are capable backups at OLB. Another exciting guy is Donovan Woods, who made the team last year as an undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma State. Woods can also play inside or outside linebacker and showed some great ability on Special Teams. Woods went down with an injury early in the year, which opened the door for Patrick Bailey's outstanding Rookie of the Year campaign.

8. Dime Back

Ike Taylor and William Gay are the starters. Deshea will be the nickel back. Who is the #4? Keenan Lewis, a lanky corner who the Steelers drafted in the 3rd round could fill the gap. Joe Burnett, the teams 5th round draft pick, is a little undersized but has some good return abilities and will return the first punt tonight. Burnett could find his way onto the team by showing some special teams skill. That's how James Harrison made the team. Speaking of special teams, Anthony Madison led the team in Special Teams tackles last season, and he might be in play for the #4 corner spot as well. The Steelers brought in veteran Keiwan Ratliff for depth at corner, and last year's "Training Camp Phenom" Roy Lewis is still lurking in the mix. Lewis is a big hitter and has a great nose for the ball, so keep an eye out for him in the big play department.

9. Hitting Someone Different

Tunch and Wolf have been talking about this all week. The players have been hitting each other in practice for 2 weeks now. It'll be refreshing for them to go out and hit someone wearing a different color jersey. Special teams, due to their violence, are one of the hardest things to practice, and with the rule changes to make wedge blocking illegal, the return game will be even more of a mystery tonight. A lot of these guys see Special Teams as their gateway onto the 53-man roster, so there will be a lot of guys out there trying to grab the coaches eyes with big plays on Special Teams.

10. Superman Returns

If you're looking to get extra-pumped before the game, the DVE pregame show starts at 6.

Kickoff at 8.

Get out your jersey. Get out your towel. Get some beer. The Steelers are back.

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