Thursday, September 2, 2010

Gameday: Carolina Panthers

7:30 PM
Heinz Field
TV: KDKA Channel 2
Radio: 102.5 WDVE

What to Watch For: Key Roster Battles

In our opinion, there are about 7 roster spots that 13 players will be fighting for in this game. The Steelers have to make their cuts on Saturday.

In our opinion, there are  roster spots up for grabs in this game. Here's a look at the "bubble" spots, in order of importance: 

1. Running Back - Isaac Redman v Frank Summers v Jonathan Dwyer
In our opinion, Redman has earned his place on the team. They even used him at FB a few times last game, showing that they are exploring the option of letting Frank the Tank go. Personally, we feel like Tank needs a year on the practice squad. He made the roster last year and only appeared in 1 game. Dwyer is going to have to show something on special teams to show he belongs on the team and not on the practice squad.

2. Linebacker - Stevenson Sylvester (ILB) v Thaddeus Gibson (OLB) v Patrick Bailey (OLB)
As we said before, this is going to come down to who can make the plays on special teams and show that they deserve to be on the roster. Sylvester is a good athlete that is always around the ball, but his height gives him a high pad level that he might need some more time to work on getting lower.

3. Offensive Line - Tony Hills (T) v Justin Hartwig (C) v Kraig Urbik (G)
Hills has had easily his best camp to date and looks better at Right Tackle, maybe than anyone. Urbik was a 3rd round pick last year and it would be a shame to lose someone that young because of roster numbers. Hartwig is an aged veteran that probably has seen the writing on the wall. Pouncey has supplanted him at Center, and the Steelers seem set on Center-Guard combo Doug Legursky as the #1 backup at Center. Ramon Foster is solidly on the lineup as the #1 backup Tackle and backup LG, where he filled in for Chris Kemoeatu last year.

4. Secondary - Crezdon Butler v Anthony Madison
Madison, a special teams ace, was cut from the team last year. Only after the special teams units took a nosedive did the Steelers bring him back, and voila, improvement! Madison has looked okay on defense this year, but Crezdon Butler's combination of youth, speed, and ball sense (he made a great interception of Tebow last week that he almsot took to the house) might make the Steelers opt to keep him on the roster as the #6 CB rather than Madison. Once again, Butler will have to show something on Special Teams if he wants to make the roster.

5. Defensive Line - Sonny Harris & Doug Worthington v waivers
Our Defensive Line is old. Starters Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, and Brett Keisel are all over 30, along with #2 backup DE Nick Eason and backup NT Chris Hoke. Last year's first round pick Ziggy Hood becomes the #1 backup this year, and will be a huge boost to the rotation. We drafted Sonny Harris in a late round last year and Doug Worthington in a late round this year to add youth to the unit. However, we don't think the roster numbers are going to work out for either of them to stay on the team. Harris was picked up on waivers last year by Carolina, but came back to join the Steelers after Aaron Smith was injured. Obviously, there is interest in him out there and the Steelers might have to put him on the roster to keep him with the organization -- but is there space for him?

Other guys who might end up on the outside looking in: Charlie Batch (QB), Arnaz Battle (WR)
For Batch, we know what he brings to the table, but the Steelers may opt to only keep 2 QBs. Battle has looked good in camp, but for the Steelers to keep 6 WRs on their roster would be a stretch.

The awesomeness of the instant communication of Twitter is astounding. Even on this short week, we were still able to find a guest for our Behind Enemy Lines segment. This week, our guest is Eric from Cat Crave.

1.The fourth preseason game is one where we usually don't see a whole lot of playing time for the starters. The guys at the bottom of the roster tend to see a lot of playing time so that the coaches can figure out who is going to make the final roster cut. That being said, what are you looking for out of the Panthers for this game to be considered a "success"?

Like most of the games this preseason, I am still looking for improved consistency from the quarterbacks, and better pass-catching and route-running by the receiving core. There has been enough reps made in practice that there should be more of a chemistry between the quarterbacks and the receivers. As fans, the majority of us only see the preseason games, so we tend to make the "Steve Smith not playing hurts the passing game" excuses, but the reality is, these guys see each other on an almost daily basis, and they work together so much that with every passing week, there should be a level of improvement that is extremely noticeable to the fans. I haven't seen that progressive improvement still. The offensive line also needs to do a better job at pass protection, which is another key factor in the quarterback's ability to have success in the passing game.

On special teams, I'd like to see more of what I saw against the Tennessee Titans -- mainly in the area of catching and maintaining possession on kick- and punt-returns, and see better tackling on kickoff.

2. Obviously one of Carolina's biggest losses was DE Julius Peppers. Have you seen anyone show the capacity to step into the role of #1 pass-rusher?

I'm actually having a great time forgetting that guy's name. Julius Who? Oh, the guy the Chicago Bears got duped into overpaying for, I gotcha.

If preseason is any indication of how Carolina's defense will play and attack opposing defenses, then this is the highlight of the preseason and what's to come. I didn't know defensive end Tyler Brayton had the ability to "eat Michael Oher's lunch" to sack Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco not once, but twice -- and in the same drive. But that's not all...Greg Hardy, the defensive end who was a sure-fire first-round draft prediction a couple of years ago, has been playing heavily on the minds of offensive coordinators. I believe it's time for him to upgrade his number from 76 to 90, and show ol' Julius What's-his-face how an every-down defensive end plays. Mentioning these two guys is just scratching the surface at defensive end. I don't think that...ummm...Peppers will be missed for very long, if he's missed right now, even.

3. How have you felt about Matt Moore's progress into the starting QB role? Do you feel like he can be a long-term solution or is he just holding down the fort until Clausen is ready?

I have been sorrily disappointed in Moore's lack of progress throughout preseason. There are other factors on the field that weigh into his lack of progress (see offensive line and wide receivers), but a quarterback is at the very least, the leader on offense. A good quarterback develops chemistry with his receivers. I'm not saying Moore is a bad quarterback, but aside from success at the end of a disappointing 2009 campaign, he hasn't really built on his regular season success in his first three preseason showings. My hope is that he's able to "turn it on" come Week One like he was able to late last season. There will be more game film of Moore and his tendencies for defensive coordinators to gameplan, and hopefully those tendencies aren't a glaring problem. In the meantime, he is the installed starting quarterback, and he is the only one with all eight games of experience under his belt.

I feel like Moore can be a long-term solution as the starting quarterback, depending on how he performs in the first few weeks of the regular season, but again, not seeing anything impressive from him in preseason, really doesn't give me much to go off of. His future in Carolina not only depends on his success, but on something completely out of his control -- whether the team owners can come to an agreement with the player's union on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement before the deadline next spring. If no agreement has been made, then we can be almost assured Moore will no longer be with the Carolina Panthers.

4. Any under-the-radar players that you think will be big surprises this year?

Has it become too hackneyed to say Dwayne Jarrett? I'm beginning to think that not only has it become that, but it's also right down the lines of wishful thinking and borderline pipe dreams. I'd like to say Jarrett is one who could very well be under-the-radar, but he hasn't shown me anything (other than lip-service) that would convince me otherwise.

Defensive end Greg Hardy looks to be a highly likely candidate as under-the-radar, and I'm going to throw second-year running back / return specialist Mike Goodson in the mix, as well. He had a respectable showing against the Titans Saturday night, and he could very well give the team some promise in the return game.

One other name comes to mind, and that's tight end Gary Barnidge. He's not really a surprise player, he's more of a "if they'd just give him a chance to play more" guy. He's rarely talked about (as most of Carolina's tight ends are), but he's shown that dedication and hard work payoff, everytime his number is called. Against Tennessee, Barnidge had the largest gain of all offensive players on one 50-yard reception. And the guy can truck it down the field, too.

5. Any other final thoughts?

Even though right tackle Jeff Otah, Steve Smith and Jonathan Stewart's absences should have had very little impact on developing team chemistry, I am really looking forward to seeing these guys back out on the field. 

Another week, another solid set of responses. We answered some questions for their Gameday post as well, so go over and check that out.

Go Steelers!

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