View Full Version : Big game in Carolina for 'fence riders'

09-02-2009, 09:52 PM
Big game in Carolina for 'fence riders'
Posted September 2, 2009 8 :42 PM

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin didn't necessarily say the final preseason game carries more weight than the three that precede it.

But it sure sounded like it earlier this week when Tomlin addressed the significance of the Steelers' 8 p.m. game against the Carolina Panthers in regard to the "fence riders." Fence riders is Tomlin speak for players who find themselves squarely on the cut line with the deadline looming for NFL teams setting their 53-man rosters.

"It's a complete body of work, but we like to do business with guys on the rise, guys that are showing improvement. I think if it's weighted in any way, that's the issue," Tomlin said. "You like guys on the rise, guys that are improving, guys that are taking coaching and eliminating mistakes and playing faster if you will.

"If they're going to make a run to potentially make this team for the first time, it will usually be because they're improving and they'll be a guy on the rise and that fourth performance will be the best one."

Tomlin cited several examples from last year of players making the team in large part because of what they showed the coaching staff in the last preseason game.

Patrick Bailey made several tackles while covering kickoffs and played his way onto the team as an undrafted free agent. He played enough on special teams last season that he won the Joe Greene Award, which is given to the Steelers' top rookie.

Donovan Woods, another undrafted free agent, also opened some eyes in the Steelers' final preseason game in 2008. Playing for the injured Arnold Harrison at outside linebacker, Woods registered a sack and he hurried the quarterback on another play when he leapt over a blocker to get into the backfield.

Woods made the Steelers' 53-man roster and played in five games last season.

"Showed some things that, quite, frankly, we didn't know he had," Tomlin said of Woods, "and he was up and down on our roster last year because of that performance so by no means do we take this game for granted."

Indeed, the final preseason game may be virtually meaningless for the starters and other established veteran who already have the team made. But for those fighting for a roster spot, the game can be everything.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has not been in the position of having to make a team since the Steelers took him with the 11th overall pick of the 2004 draft. But he appreciates what the fence riders have at stake Thursday night in Charlotte.

When asked what he would tell those players, Roethlisberger said, "Leave it all on the field. It may be your last time to prove to the Steelers coaches what you have. Treat it like it's your Super Bowl and leave it all on the field and no regrets