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Old 08-17-2009, 08:00 PM   #1
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Default Sizing up the Steelers position by position

http://www.timesonline.com/articles/...9309639569.txt

MONDAY AUGUST 17, 2009 :: Last modified: Sunday, August 16, 2009 12:53 AM EDT

Sizing up the Steelers position by position


By Mike Bires
Times Sports Staff

LATROBE -- Here's a position-by-position look at the Steelers as they enter the final week of training camp:

QUARTERBACK

Now that Michael Vick has signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, all that speculation that he might end up with the Steelers has gone away. Thank goodness. The Steelers don’t need him.

With two Super Bowl titles in his first five pro seasons, Ben Roethlisberger has developed into the franchise QB everyone thought he would be.

In the battle for the back-up job, it’s still Charlie Batch even though Dennis Dixon narrowed the gap with a solid performance Thursday in the preseason win over the Arizona Cardinals.

RUNNING BACK

Rashard Mendenhall was somewhat of a disappointment against Arizona with a 2.7 yards per carry average. But really, he didn’t have much running room. His stats were more a reflection of the offensive line's sub-par performance.

All in all, the Steelers are solid with Willie Parker, Mendenhall and Mewelde Moore at halfback. They each have their own distinctive styles, and, if they get adequate blocking, the running game could be fun to watch.

At fullback, Carey Davis has had a good camp. He's also a capable special teams contributor, so there's no reason to believe he's in danger of getting cut.

Right now, Isaac Redman, an undrafted rookie, has the edge for the fifth running back roster spot. He’s run and blocked better than Frank “Tank” Summers, a rookie fifth-round draft pick.

WIDE RECEIVER

The first four spots are set: Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes are the starters, Limas Sweed is the No. 3 wideout and rookie Mike Wallace has a firm grasp as the fourth receiver.

If the Steelers keep five wideouts, they’ll choose either Shaun McDonald, who caught 79 passes two years ago with the Detroit Lions, or Dallas Baker, a third-year pro who’s spent much of the past two years on the practice squad.

Right now, McDonald has the advantage after catching six passes for 69 yards against the Cardinals’ reserves.

TIGHT END

Here’s the only position on the team without any real competition. The Steelers will open the season with the same three tight ends they had most of last season – Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth and Sean McHugh, who also can play fullback.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Clearly, the O-line remains the team’s biggest question mark. At least it is right now especially at center and right guard.

With Darnell Stapleton sidelined indefinitely after arthroscopic knee surgery, Trai Essex will likely be the opening-day starter at right guard. But how he fares there remains to be seen. After all, he’s a natural left tackle. And he hasn’t exactly been drawing rave reviews so far in camp.

At center, Justin Hartwig, last year’s starter, took part in his first meaningful practice on Saturday. He's been hobbled with an injured toe. Stapleton had been running with the first-team offense at center until he got hurt. Until today, the first-team center since Stapleton went down has been Doug Legursky, a practice squad player last year.

The encouraging news on the O-line is that right tackle Willie Colon, left guard Chris Kemoeatu and left tackle Max Starks return as starters. But if any of them get hurt, there could serious problems. The Steelers don't have any proven back-ups.

So far, the most impressive of the second-stringers hase been undrafted rookie Ramon Foster, who switched from tackle to left guard. He should be on the opening-day roster.

Rookie Kraig Urbik, a third-round draft pick, is a work in progress. Don’t expect him to be starting at right guard any time soon.

DEFENSIVE LINE

A position of strength last year, the D-line may even be better. That’s because of rookie Ziggy Hood, the Steelers’ first-round draft pick. He’s a talented player who, sooner or later, will work his way into the rotation at defensive end.

Last year, the Steelers kept seven D-linemen. If they keep six this year, at least one veteran will have to go.

The starters are set: Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel at the ends, and nose tackle Casey Hampton in the middle. Chris Hoke is established as Hampton’s back-up.

Battling for a roster spot are vets Nick Eason and Travis Kirschke and rookie Ra’Shon “Sonny” Harris.

LINEBACKER

Is there a better set of linebackers than the four the Steelers start?

James Harrison, the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2008, and LaMarr Woodley make up the league’s best tandem of outside 'backers. Inside, James Farrior is coming off a Pro Bowl season while Lawrence Timmons is a 2007 first-round draft pick with explosive potential.

The Steelers’ top back-ups are Andre Frazier (outside) and Keyaron Fox (inside). Both are also outstanding special teams performers.

Bruce Davis, a third-round draft pick last year, helped his cause Thursday with an interception. If the Steelers keep only eight linebackers, Davis, Arnold Harrison or Patrick Bailey will be the odd man out.

SECONDARY

At cornerback, this is period of transition. “Big Play” Willie Gay is taking over for Bryant McFadden, who signed with the Cardinals during the off-season. And by taking two cornerbacks in this year’s draft -- Keenan Lewis and Joe Burnett -- Deshea Townsend’s run with the Steelers may be nearing its end. Townsend, who's in the last year of his contract, won't be cut this year. But those two new corners have intriguing potential.

As far as the entire secondary, there are seven locks to make the opening-day roster: shut-down corner Ike Taylor, Gay, Townsend, Lewis and Burnett, and safeties Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark. Safety Tyrone Carter is probably a safe bet, too.

The fact Roy Lewis can play corner and safety helps his chances. Townsend can also play safety in the pinch, so Ryan Mundy is on the bubble.

Keiwan Ratliff and Anthony Madison will battle it out for the last corner spot.

SPECIAL TEAMS

With Daniel Sepulveda, a fourth-round pick in the 2007 draft, fully recovered from a knee injury, the Steelers’ punting woes from last year are over. And in Jeff Reed, the Steelers have one of the league’s most consistent kickers.

As far as the return specialists, it’s Wallace job to lose on kickoffs. On the only chance he got against the Cardinals, he returned it 35 yards. Granted, it came in the fourth quarter against third- and fourth-stringers. Still, the Steelers think he’ll be fine.

Burnett, Moore and even Holmes are in the mix at punt returner. Burnett fumbled against the Cardinals (the Steelers recovered). But like Wallace, he’ll get every chance to be the man.

Mike Bires can be reached online at mbires@timesonline.com
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Old 08-18-2009, 04:51 AM   #2
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Default Re: Sizing up the Steelers position by position

My head is a spinning as to how the running back situation will unfold. I don't know who is going to be there and who is not. I keep saying that Davis will be cut but he is know having a good camp so I don't know.
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Old 08-18-2009, 10:03 AM   #3
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Default Re: Sizing up the Steelers position by position

RB Oline and WR are the places where its gonna be tough to stay on the team
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