... in the Steelers’ preseason opener against the Eagles. Here are the names and the numbers that should interest Steelers fans the most:
QUARTERBACK – Coach Mike Tomlin said he intends to give Jerrod Johnson (8) an extensive look in the second half, and why not? At Texas A&M, Johnson looked like a high first-round pick before shoulder surgery ruined his arm and his stock plummeted as a senior. He’s 6-5, 251 with excellent mobility, and Tomlin admires his work ethic and leadership skills. But Johnson’s accuracy is hit and miss. He’s been working to re-establish the proper release point that was lost when he came back from surgery in the spring of 2010.
RUNNING BACK – Look for plenty of Jonathan Dwyer (27) and John Clay (38) as Tomlin tests the conditioning of his big backs. The only newcomer is 178-pound speedster Chris Rainey (22), who must show he can take a hit. The other tailback to watch is Baron Batch (20), who blew out his knee early in his rookie camp last year. At fullback, Will Johnson (46) sat out a year after playing tight end for West Virginia University. He’s come back faster and stronger but needs to improve as a lead blocker to make an impact at his position. If not, he just might be a sleeper at tailback.
WIDE RECEIVER – After the top three there’s a huge drop-off. Rookie Toney Clemons (11) will catch a tough one and drop an easy one and infuriate his coaches because he has all of the physical skills to play in the league. His potential puts him above a group of players hoping to break from the pack tonight. Marquis Maze (3) will follow Rainey as a return specialist tonight. The sleeper here is David Gilreath (18), who can also return kicks.
TIGHT END – This position is troubling Tomlin, who’s had to repeatedly yank David Johnson (85) over from the running back group to help out as a blocker. Free agent acquisition Leonard Pope (45) is 6-foot-8 but slow and doesn’t get low enough for consistent blocking leverage. Weslye Saunders’ (82) three-game suspension is looming, and he would not count against the final 53 if kept for the first month, but do the Steelers want to reward his shenanigans? Jamie McCoy (80) made the practice squad last year, and is probably the best lead-blocking fullback of the group, but he curiously hasn’t worked as a fullback this camp. David Paulson (48) is a better receiver than blocker and will likely get a year on the practice squad to improve his strength.
OFFENSIVE LINE – Mike Adams (76) will start at left tackle and David DeCastro (66) will start at right guard. Watch the nifty feet of the long, tall Adams and watch the low pad level of DeCastro. Seventh-round pick Kelvin Beachum (68) is also expected to make the team as an intelligent and versatile jack of all trades.
DEFENSIVE LINE – Since rookie nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu (95) will receive a “redshirt” this season, and since nose tackle Steve McLendon (90) can also play defensive end, there are few if any spots to be won behind the first six players. Defensive ends Corbin Bryant (91) and Al Woods (65) will battle to force a seventh spot.
LINEBACKER – Finally we have the chance to see if 5-11 rookie Sean Spence (51) is stout enough to see playing time this season. Undrafted rookie Adrian Robinson (46) flashes plenty of pass-rush potential but won’t be anything more than a practice squad player if he can’t get off blocks.
DEFENSIVE BACK – If Mike Wallace’s contract is extended, players such as Robert Golden (30) will have to make the team in place of older, more expensive players. Golden is an undrafted rookie safety with great range and ball skills. Can the converted cornerback come up and play the run? Rookie Terrence Frederick (37) could make the squad as the fifth cornerback.
KICKER – Daniel Hrapmann (2) kicked a 53-yarder last Friday night at Latrobe Stadium and that kind of leg always has a chance. At punter, rookie Drew Butler (9) has made strides in his quest to unseat injured veteran Jeremy Kapinos.
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