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Old 08-27-2006, 03:22 AM   #1
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Default Position battles

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Post-Gazette writer Gerry Dulac takes a look beyond the stat sheet and analyzes the position battles going on in Steelers camp in the wake of preseason Game 2 Saturday vs. the Vikings. A look at some of the players who helped their cause and those who need to step it up.

The Breakdown

Running back Willie Parker -- Don't get in too much of a lather about the struggling running game. Parker, who had the AFC's second-highest rushing average among 1,000-yard backs last season, played only one series against the Eagles, but he carried three times for 13 yards and caught three passes for 18 yards. What's more, he slipped several times on the surface at Lincoln Financial Field because he was wearing the wrong spikes, depriving himself of a couple long plays. "I knew I wasn't going to play that long, so I had short stubs and I was all wobbly and off-balanced," Parker said. Just another reason not to get too excited about the preseason.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger -- In his longest outing of the preseason, Roethlisberger played two series against the Eagles, appearing for 21 plays and attempting 15 passes. Roethlisberger completed nine for 51 yards with one interception, but he was under heavy pressure from the right side of the Eagles' line. During one stretch, Roethlisberger was hit to the ground on three consecutive pass attempts.

Free safety -- While Ryan Clark and Tyrone Carter rotate in the battle for the starting free-safety position, rookie Anthony Smith continues to stand out on the field. This time, though, Smith did it on special teams, delivering a thundering hit on punt returner J.R. Reed in the second quarter, after which Reed had to be helped from the field. Smith, the team's second pick in the draft from Syracuse, won't be the starter at free safety because of the complexity of the Steelers' defense. But he has been their best player at that position in the preseason. "I think Anthony Smith is a good football player," coach Bill Cowher said. "He's getting better every game."

Cornerback Ike Taylor -- One of the reasons Taylor was second in the NFL with 25 passes defensed last season was because he dropped, by his estimation, at least 12 interceptions. That being the case, Taylor was in midseason form against the Eagles, dropping two more potential interceptions. It appeared Taylor would be credited with an interception when he made a nice play to step in front of wide receiver Reggie Brown and intercepted Donovan McNabb's pass in the first quarter. But Eagles coach Andy Reid challenged the play and the call was overturned when it was ruled Taylor lost possession as he hit the ground.

Tight end Charles Davis -- The coaches are looking for a third tight end who can block, but it doesn't appear to be rookie Charles Davis, a fifth-round draft choice. Davis has been passed on the depth chart by rookie free agent Jon Dekker, who isn't much of a blocker, and could be in danger of being the first draft choice to get cut. Look for the Steelers to keep just two tight ends on the active roster -- Heath Miller and Jerame Tuman, who has not played in the preseason because of a hamstring injury.

Guard Kendall Simmons -- As promised, Simmons moved from right guard to center when Roethlisberger left the game and played two series in the middle. He was replaced at guard by Chris Kemoeatu. "I haven't been that nervous since the Super Bowl," Simmons said. "I was just trying to give him the ball." The Steelers are looking at Simmons in an emergency situation after Chukky Okobi had neck surgery. Okobi, though, said he expects to return for Thursday night's preseason finale against Carolina.
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