August 13, 2010, 1:30 PM
Thursday August 12th was the final practice before preseason game #1, DAY 13
LaMarr Woodley, Hines Ward, Matt Spaeth, and Arnaz Battle sat out practice (an afternoon-only session), and LB Andre Frazier was officially put on injured reserve for the season. Frazier was replaced on the roster by LB Brandon Renkart, who has spent the past two seasons on three different NFL practice squads.
Patrick Bailey continued to fill in as the first sub at OLB, this time for Woodley, and with the Frazier IR placement both Bailey and rookie "Sly" Sylvester increased their odds of making the team. The question likely becomes whether the team will keep 7 defensive linemen or 9 linebackers; with 8 locks at LB that would seem to be Harrison, Woodley, Farrior, Timmons, Foote, Fox, Worilds, and Gibson.
The 53-man roster cut in early September could come down to taking one of the following: DE Sunny Harris, or Bailey, or Sylvester. Harris last year was plucked off the practice squad by Carolina, so the team may be hesitant to try him there again. Sunny also represents youth at a position where the Steelers could use some (in addition to Ziggy Hood, of course). Bailey is not squad eligible as he has been active for more than 9 games in a season, and he has been valuable playing extensively on special teams in his first two seasons. Sylvester, a star at the 'rover' position in college for Utah, was singled out earlier in the week by LB coach Keith Butler as flashing great talent.
All of the above makes you wonder whether a few veterans could be in danger of losing a spot to make room for Harris, Bailey, and Sylvester. DE Nick Eason started 5 games for the team last year, and has played in 39 games for the team in three seasons. However, Eason had health problems this offseason and lost over 20 lbs in recovery. Is he up to par, and would the team consider him expendable? Battle also becomes a veteran being pushed for a spot with rookies Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown making plays through camp. It is unlikely Sanders and Brown are cut, which puts the WR position at 5 locks. If Stefan Logan is kept as the return man, that makes 6. On offense, the decision may well be whether to cut Battle, who provides NFL experience for depth purposes, or cut Logan and trust the return game to the rookies (and Randle El).
Mike Tomlin's press conference yesterday revealed few answers about his plans for QB playing time Saturday in preseason game #1. Tomlin did say his starters would play between 8-12 snaps, and no longer, with rookies to expect 30-35 snaps in the contest. But, the coach left open the possibility that Ben Roethlisberger would not play at all; and it's hard to believe Ben would play much in preseason games 2 or 3 (the games most important for regular season prep), either, given he is suspended for at least 4 regular season games. So will Ben just get heavy work in practice and in meaningless preseason game #4?
On Thursday, the QB reps were split about evenly between Ben, Byron, and Dixon, with Charlie Batch not taking any team reps. Byron started two drills with the first team; Ben started one with the first team. All told through 13 days of camp practice, the QB reps stand at: Dixon 227, Ben 209, Dixon 202, and Batch 78 (+/- 2 reps margin of error).
As for the rookies, Tomlin revealed first round pick Maurkice Pouncey will play both guard and center, while second round pick Worilds may not play at all due to the limited practice time he's had from injuries. Sanders is expected to return kicks, with Brown focusing on punts on Saturday. Chatting with special teams coach Al Everest yesterday, he said both rookie WRs will work at both KR and PR before the preseason is over.
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