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08-29-2008, 02:50 PM
Black and Gold go a bit exotic
The Tribune-Democrat

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense was anything but vanilla in its final preseason game, a 19-16 win over Carolina on Thursday at Heinz Field.

Teams usually don’t show much in the final tune-up for the regular season, but coach Mike Tomlin gave the Houston Texans something to think about ahead of their Sept. 7 opener.

The Steelers started the game in a no-huddle offense that was a bit more hurry-up than intended. Ben Roethlisberger called the plays at the line of scrimmage on the first two series, but newly announced starting center Justin Hartwig snapped the ball before his quarterback was ready on third-and-5 from the Steelers 25-yard line. The ball glanced off of Roethlisberger’s hands and he had to scramble back to the 4-yard line, where he fell on it.

Roethlisberger said that kind of problem is exactly why the Steelers wanted to work on the no-huddle offense.

“It wasn’t good, that’s why I wanted to practice it in the preseason,” he said. “We had a couple of mistakes, but I’m glad we got it done now.”

Hartwig, who beat out returning starter Sean Mahan at center, wasn’t pleased with his performance.

“I’m pretty upset, actually, because I snapped it too early on the third play of the game,” Hartwig said. “I shut down a drive. We had a few errors with the no-huddle offense that we’d like to have back, but that’s why we have practice.”

The second series of the no-huddle didn’t start much better – Kendall Simmons was whistled for a false start on the second play of the possession – but it did have a better end result. Carey Davis scored on a 6-yard run to cap a five-play drive that took 2:56.

“It’s always nice to have your last drive of the preseason be a touchdown,” Hartwig said. “That’s what we’re about – getting touchdowns every time we step out on the field.”

The Steelers went to a huddle as soon as backup Byron Leftwich came into the game on the third possession, but offensive coordinator Bruce Arians still had a trick up his sleeve as running back Rashard Mendenhall lined up at quarterback with Leftwich split out wide in a Wildcat formation. Mendenhall took the direct snap up the middle for 8 yards.

The Steelers had used the formation twice in their third preseason game, a 12-10 win at Minnesota, in which Roethlisberger was lined up at wide receiver and Willie Parker was behind center.


Rookie mistakes: Mendenhall fumbled again on Thursday, marking the third time he has fumbled in four preseason games.

This time it came after a 12-yard gain, rookie tried to spin out of a tackle. Mendenhall, who ran for 79 yards on 21 carries, was hit by Carolina’s Gary Gibson and the ball was recovered by former Steeler Ricardo Colclough.

Tomlin was asked if that Mendenhall’s penchant for fumbling would make him hesitant to play the first-round pick in a regular-season game.

“Yes,” Tomlin answered. “Wouldn’t it make you a little hesitant?”

Second-round pick Limas Sweed also had a problem holding onto the ball. The wide receiver was wide open for a potential big play in the final minute of the first half but dropped a pass that could have moved the Steelers into field-goal range.


Feeling fine: Safety Troy Polamalu saw his first action of the preseason, playing with the Steelers’ starters on the Panthers’ first two possessions. Polamalu, who missed the first three games with a hamstring injury, had one tackle.

“Troy came out of the game great,” Tomlin said. “He wanted to play more. I told him he wasn’t going to get what he was looking for with another series.”


Notes: Steelers LB Arnold Harrison tore the ACL in his left knee and will likely be out for the season. … Panthers K John Kasay, whose father attended Greater Johnstown High School, had another strong return to western Pennsylvania. Kasay kicked field goals of 32, 32 and 48 yards. The last time Kasay, who returns to the Johnstown area on a regular basis, and the Panthers played at Heinz Field he kicked five field goals, including the game-winner with no time remaining, in Carolina’s 15-13 win in a 2006 preseason game.