After two pre-season games & the close of camp at Latrobe, here are some of my observations so far...
Starters: Other than some inconsistent run-blocking, the line hasn't been that bad & Kemo has been better than most feared. Hartwig has to be the guy & once he settles in, the unit will gel.
Back-Ups: I'm disappointed that Max didn't show more, but I think he will play plenty at LT & in the jumbo packages. My question is if Mahan doesn't start, is he or Essex the first guard off the bench?
Starters: Ben has looked great so far & seems to be more willing to throw it away.
Back-Ups: Batch is a great guy & a heady QB, but we all know his time here was limited anyway. Byron has a rocket arm & starting experience, but his game decisions & touch have always been questionable & he's a liability with this line. I like Dixon a lot - he's got a good arm but has some touch & his mobility adds a dimension for sub-packages.
Starters: As I said before, the line hasn't helped them, but Parker has looked good coming back from injury. Davis hasn't been noticed, which like linemen, means he must be doing okay.
Back-Ups: Mendenhall has some good runs, but mostly has run like he's thinking too much & not reacting naturally. Moore hasn't shown too much, but I think that's more an issue of the play-calling so far - besides I think the coaches know what they've got with him. Which bring us to Russell...I'd like to see this kid get some time with the first unit, because he runs with some power.
Starters: Santonio - the light has come on & will be the go-to guy & produce a Pro-Bowl season. Hines has to fight off injuries, age & hopefully Sweed - but his career has been defined by fighting challenges. The real trick is for him is to realize his reduced role, teach the youngsters & make peace with the fact that his contract needs to redone after the season.
Back-Ups: Nate's locked in & has looked good in a contract year. Sweed has played like rookie - not sure of his assignments & too worried about just making the catch - but he has the luxury of coming along slowly & playing against 4th & 5th CBs when does get in. Here's where it gets murky... with Reid, Baker, Rucker (the rest are non-factors) does the team keep 5 or 6 WRs? Assuming that the team goes with Drummond as a returner (underwhelming so far), then that means only one more WR makes it. If they choose someone else (Santonio, Reid, etc.) then two sports are possibly open. My thought is that if they go 5, then the final spot goes to Reid because he can return in a pinch & he offers more versatility. If they go 6, then I think they go Reid & Rucker as he has the height Baker offers but with more potential - plus he plays special teams.
Starters: Heath is a Pro-Bowl level player, but who'll never reach it because the NFL prizes TEs who don't block (Gates, Gonzales, Winslow).
Back-Ups: Spaeth is a "sit-down" TE with good hands & he should be better blocking-wise after his shoulder surgery. Boyd at his size should be a glorified 3rd tackle, but Vickers might surprise him because his experience in Baltimore.
Starters: Other than the offensive line, the hopes of the team rest here. Casey needs to be a force for the line, & the defense, to be successful - & last year he wasn't. If he's seen the light, we don't know, considering the nonchalant way he came into camp - but like him, it's not looking good. Smith will be solid & Keisel will both tease & frustrate, but the key is Hampton.
Back-Ups: Back-ups?...what back-ups? All joking aside, our situation isn't good & team seems to finally realize it. Colbert's inability to draft any talent is haunting the team as they try to patch it with FA/waiver-wire pick-ups to find some relief. Hoke is good & Kirschke is decent but nothing to get excited about, but Eason is a 3rd-string DT at best. McBean is a tease who looks the part, but doesn't play it - the worst part is that he may not even make the squad (representing another DL failure). It's telling that when you sign a veteran like Orpheus Roye & fans get excited that there's a problem. But all in all, it is a good signing & he should push Eason out of the rotation quickly.
Starters: This unit could be among the best - if Tomlin has the courage to go with Timmons over Foote. Foote is a solid plugger, but despite his experience, still gets run over too much & misses tackles - Timmons is a weapon that needs to be on the field. Timmons has ability that Foote only dreams about & adds a threat that offenses would have to account for. Woodley will open eyes & have a Pro-Bowl season, while Harrison solidifies his Pro-Bowl nod. I think Farrior continues to play well & earns the rare Steeler extension.
Back-Ups: I've already said what I feel about Timmons - but the others? Fox looks like a good pick-up & Humpal & Harrison seem like scrappers, while Davis needs some time. I think the odd man out is Frazier.
Starters: By all accounts Ike is having a great camp, but in the Buffalo game he allowed too many uncontested catches - like he was too concerned with being beaten deep. I believe that our guys play off too much & goes away from Ike's strength, but it probably protects Deshea. I'm comfortable with both, but worry that the scheme works against us. As for the safeties, it's good that Clark's back to direct things, but we don't know what we've got as they're being careful with Troy. Troy will surely come around to play & play well, but the question is always - how much are you going to get from him?
Back-Ups: Which leads to one of the bigger questions - what about Anthony Smith? Smith can be a dynamic player, but he wants to make the big play too badly which leads to risks & being out of position. The problem is he needs to be on the field to learn (& attack the LOS), because he's simply too good of a player to give up on - hopefully he turns it around this season. The same could apply to McFadden, who just can't seem to get past Deshea despite youth & talent - but for now he's a solid backup who is looking over his shoulder at a hard-charging William Gay (who could be Deshea Jr.). Of the others, I'd keep Mundy over Carter as he offers more long-term & Smith can backup both spots (& I still haven't forgotten Carter's AFCC performance either). I like what I've seen from Lewis as the last DB as neither Madison or Mason are anything special.