Saturday could make or break Steelers hopefuls
By John Grupp
Friday, August 17, 2007
For some Steelers hopefuls, a trip to Washington, D.C., could be their last best chance to make a powerful statement.
Coach Mike Tomlin said the starters will see increased action in the next two preseason games, meaning Saturday's exhibition against the Redskins is a capital opportunity for fringe roster players to enhance their case for making the 53-man roster.
"You have to take advantage of the opportunities that you are given," said free-agent wide receiver Walter Young after the team's final full workout at St. Vincent College. "Whether it's in practice or in the games, you have to make plays."
Tomlin said the first-team unit will see significantly more time against the Redskins than in the opening two exhibition games.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger should play into the second quarter, at least, and running back Willie Parker will see his first game action since returning from a knee injury. Linebacker Lawrence Timmons, the first-round draft pick who missed the first two exhibition games with a groin injury, will start.
"Tentatively, we're going to play our first groups a lot longer than what we've done at this point," Tomlin said. "We are going to be prepared to play it by ear. But it is our intention to play guys more in this game."
Tomlin said the first-string unit will see its most extensive preseason action the following week against Philadelphia in the next-to-last exhibition game.
That means, with training camp breaking in Latrobe and the players headed to a less frequent practice schedule on the South Side, there will be fewer reps for the second- and third-teamers. There will be precious chances to impress the coaches or make a play that could be the difference between the 53-man roster or unemployment.
Saturday, at FedExField, is the shot for players such as Young, and running backs Carey Davis and Gary Russell -- or even Kevan Barlow - to stump for their cause.
"I'm trying to go out and make plays and give myself a chance," said the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Young, who has four catches for 85 yards and an eye-opening 41-yard touchdown reception against the New Orleans Saints. "So far, I think I've done that. But I still believe I have a long way to go."
Russell, the NFL's leading rusher in the preseason (albeit in two games), will get a chance to prove he can be a third-down back.
"We want to see if he's capable of in some other areas -- pass protection and so forth," Tomlin said. "We want to see what he can do when the ball is not in his hands."
Tomlin said he is flexible in number of players per position. He is not, for instance, locked into five receivers and five running backs.
"I really think ultimately when it comes down to those last three or four guys, position is probably not a factor," he said. "It's team guys. Guys who make the football team better. We have a general idea about numbers, but we are not married to that by any stretch."
Jason Capizzi, a 6-foot-9, 315-pound rookie free-agent tackle, is taking advantage of every snap in his long-shot bid to make the team. The reps will shrink as the Steelers move to one-a-day practices at the South Side.
"Every play I get in there, I have to show that I belong," Capizzi said. "I'm getting about 10 to 12 reps a day, compared to the (first-team), so obviously I have to show them on every play that I am here to stay and help the team as much as I can."
Davis, who has the second-longest run of any NFL running back in this young preseason (56 yards), and Young know the routine of being called into the coach's office, playbook in hand. Together, the two University of Illinois products have spent a combined eight previous training camps with five teams and, for their troubles, have logged about two months on an NFL roster.
Young was a Steelers training camp casualty each of the past two summers, eventually signing with the practice squad. This year, the former seventh-round pick from Illinois is one of its surprises.
"For once, I'm still standing, healthy, and giving myself a chance with it," Young said.
Said Tomlin, "He's on the brink, as are a lot of other guys."
Tomlin admires the passion of Davis and Young. But that alone won't be enough to win them a job.
"I like those guys," he said. "You root for those guys from a human interest standpoint. But the reality is you've got to keep your best 53."