Back in July, before training camp, I presented a list of 10 question marks for the Steelers. Some proved meaningless, whether the answer was yes or no, and some others have yet to be answered. The rest I’m going to answer right now.
10. Will Jerrod Johnson unseat one of the veteran QBs?
No, but the kid made a run. In his last preseason game, the mobile 6-5, 251-pounder made some of his best throws of the summer and finished strong with 7 completions in 10 attempts and a 6-yard touchdown pass to Weslye Saunders that turned out to be the game-winner against Carolina. Johnson finished the preseason with a passer rating of 136.2 and if Charlie Batch hadn’t made a brilliant final appearance, Johnson could be on the practice squad now. So, the search to find someone to groom behind 30-year-old Ben Roethlisberger continues.
9. Can the new blocking tight end block?
If we’re talking about Leonard Pope, the answer is no. If we’re talking about rookie David Paulson, the answer is “a bit, and in time he certainly will because he cares about it.” Both tight ends made the team along with Heath Miller, but the feeling that’s spreading among fans is that Saunders will replace Pope when Saunders returns from his four-week suspension. So, Pope has time to prove me and the rest wrong.
8. Will Jeremy Kapinos hold on to the punting job?
No. After reporting for camp with a great attitude about the upcoming competition with Drew Butler, Kapinos worked a day and was then held out with back problems. A week later he had surgery and thought he’d return to kick against Carolina. But he did not and was waived. Butler, son of all-time Chicago Bears leading scorer Kevin Butler, averaged 45.9 yards per punt with a net of 38.4. He had 6 punts downed inside the 20 and 3 touchbacks. Last season, the Steelers’ punting numbers were 44.7, 38.6, 18 and 6, so the kid’s off to a decent start.
7. Does Larry Foote have enough left to play buck linebacker?
He may be all they have left to play the position with Stevenson Sylvester injured for a couple of weeks and Sean Spence out for the season. The only player behind Foote and Lawrence Timmons at the two inside spots is Bengals castoff Brandon Johnson, a 6-6 special-teamer who played 4-3 OLB last year and is lining up at both inside and outside positions with the Steelers. As for Foote, the 32-year-old played well this preseason and still has some quickness to go along with his finely honed instincts.
6. How long will it take the offensive line to come together?
Well, with David DeCastro’s injury the answer appears to be about mid-season. But, no, this line will start the season better than the line that ended last season, merely because Willie Colon is playing left guard in place of Chris Kemoeatu. The rest were in place for most of last season, and Colon played well, and at times great, this preseason.
5. Can Ziggy Hood’s play match his physique?
This answer became a rousing yes as the preseason went on. Hood has become the beast the Steelers thought he could become when they made him their first-round pick in 2009. He’s added weight, lost fat, and was at times dominant this preseason. With Steve McLendon showing he can handle the nose, it’s almost as if the Steelers picked up two new and exciting defensive linemen in the offseason free-agent market.
4. What about the open spot at wide receiver?
It’s not even a question anymore because, by keeping only four wide receivers, there isn’t even a fifth spot to fill. But of course, the answer is no since no one stepped up. Running back Chris Rainey appears to be a semblance of an answer with some of the work he’s getting at receiver. Fortunately for the Steelers their top four receivers stayed healthy this spring, so the team was able to put the best of the rest, David Gilreath, on the practice squad, along with the receiver with the best physical tools of the rest, rookie Toney Clemons.
3. Can Chris Rainey take the pounding?
Listed at 178 pounds, Rainey fumbled after taking one vicious lick this preseason. Reports came out that Rainey had lost consciousness, but his “older brother” Maurkice Pouncey said he hadn’t heard that from Chris, or that he might have only told someone that because he was embarrassed about fumbling. Rainey re-entered the game and continued to show he has the grit to run up the middle with toughness whenever his number is called. There’s no doubt in my mind that this rookie has the necessary grit and toughness to go along with his superior quickness and elusiveness.
2. Are James Harrison’s back issues behind him?
This is one of the big questions that remains unanswered. Oh, the back is fine, if that’s what we’re really talking about. But the knee is a mystery. After a couple of days of cutting on it in the spring, the knee swelled up and he was shut down. The same thing happened right before camp and he was put on the PUP list. The 34-year-old Harrison underwent minor surgery to correct the issue, was taken off the PUP list, and will test the knee again this week. He’s expected to play in Denver.
1. Will Troy Polamalu return to form?
Yes, he will, and he has. Polamalu went from looking fat and stiff in the spring to his old fit, quick and shifty self. I asked him how.
“To be honest, I could probably work out twice as hard in the offseason and no body fat would come off,” he said. “When you get toward football season, my body starts really adjusting and starts having a certain energy to get in shape, and the fat burns off easier. It’s because I’ve been doing this since I was in fifth grade. I don’t know. It’s just that your body, when that end of summer starts coming along, starts getting geared up for football season.” (Read the rest of the interview here on the message board.)