Bill Cowher reached deep into his bag of motivational tactics at practice on Wednesday. The Pittsburgh Steelers are looking a little camp weary these days, but certain players continue to shine while others seem immune to Cowher’s occasional tirade. Here’s list of a few players worth watching, for good reasons and bad, during the slate of preseason games.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are in dire need of some talent at running back. Sure, there are problems on the offensive line, but that’s true for many teams, including the San Diego Chargers.
Despite the fact the RB LaDainian Tomlinson shouldered the offensive load for the Chargers, he was still effective at over 5 yards per carry. Keying Tomlinson wasn’t enough to stop him.
For the Steelers, Jerome Bettis and Amos Zereoue struggled mightily to pick up any yards each carry. The Cleveland Browns could move the ball on the ground in 2003 with an offensive line suffering more injuries than the group in Pittsburgh.
All the draft talk about Steven Jackson wasn’t merely smoke.
As if coming to the rescue, Verron Haynes is enjoying a spectacular camp. With Bettis and Duce Staley banged up, Haynes will be one to watch during the preseason games.
As an aside, Haynes looked really promising in camp last year, but practice success did not seem to translate onto the playing field. The guy makes too many mental blunders. I wouldn’t want him picking up the blitz on third down.
The UDFA dark horse is RB Willie Parker, who shows great speed. If there is a knock on his game, practice has yet to reveal it. He should provide some excitement during scrub time.
At wide out, the show has been the top three: Hines Ward, Plaxico Burress, and Antwaan Randle El. Again, the passing game looks to be the strength of this offense. But Tommy Turnover may prevent such a bold move to a pass oriented offense from happening.
Randle El is the one watch, showing off a variety of new moves during practice. He should continue to shine in the preseason match ups.
Chris Doering is quietly having a good camp and looks to be settling at the #4 position.
#5 is wide open with Lee Mays and Freddie Milons not doing much to grab the spotlight. Zamir Cobb gets a few looks, but there doesn’t seem to be a diamond in the rough in this group. Milons could unseat Mays if he can do anything during the upcoming games.
As already noted in previous coverage, the group of tight ends is one of grave distress. At least, it seems that way.
None of the TEs can block. It has been so bad that Keydrick Vincent lined up there.
During the 2003 camp, Maddox and Jay Riemersma were developing an excellent rapport. Nothing big on this front in 2004 and UDFA Bobby Blizzard seems to be the guy that all the brass is watching. Matt Kranchik has shown some ability during practice as well, but mostly as a receiver.
Short yardage looks to be another weak spot for 2004, but watch the battle between Blizzard and Kranchik.
No real surprises on the offensive line save the good camp Kendall Simmons is enjoying. There’s not much depth catching anyone’s eye and rookie Max Starks looks like a project.
That’s almost a death sentence at St. Vincent, calling an offensive lineman a “project.”
Actually, left tackle deserves some notice during the upcoming preseason games. Can one of the no names step up and replace Mathias Nkwenti?
Someone beyond Oliver Ross, Todd Fordham, Starks, and Marvel Smith needs to stick as a tackle. We’re still waiting for Bo Lacy to do something that would indicate he can grab that slot.
On defense, the line is looking fantastic. Travis Kirschke is the feel-good story here. Brett Keisel and Eric Taylor also look sharp. This might end up being the deepest unit on this side of the ball. Hopefully, Taylor gets healthy quickly. Taylor may not return soon given the recent signing of Anthony Herron.
At linebacker, UDFAs Nick McNeil and Dedrick Roper are stealing the show. Joey Porter is also shining in camp. Kendrell Bell and James Farrior are just quietly going about their business, but the situation at OLB is a mess.
If the current injury situation holds, Alonzo Jackson will start in the first preseason game. That will be a show a lot of fans will watch closely. Jackson needs to demonstrate he can handle first-string competition. He’s merely erratic against camp fodder.
Rookie Nathaniel Adibi seems overwhelmed with everything. He had a reputation at Virginia Tech as a hot and cold type of player. If Roper gets well sooner rather than later, Adibi may not last long in the NFL. But the Steelers are likely to patient with this project as they were bringing Clark Haggans along.
The early word on CBs Ricardo Colclough and Ike Taylor is uneven at best. Both are experiencing a lot of growing pains. Taylor will be fun to watch at nickel back. He should make a play or two to give fans something to look forward to. The buzz surrounding Colclough is almost non-existent, which would have to be considered a bit of a disappointment.
Terry Fair can’t cut it and Willie Williams might stick just because of his experience. Chidi Iwuoma likely has a spot locked up.
Deshea Townsend is his usual vocal self and Chad Scott promises that he is recommitted to the game. This is encouraging news, but Chris Hope is clearly the camp star in the defensive backfield. The preseason games probably won’t showcase all that much, save Hope and Troy Polamalu laying out the opposition. These two are just itching for contact.
Following the play of Ainsley Battles and Russell Stuvaints should prove useful in figuring out how the final 53 will shake out. These two have each enjoyed some of the finer moments in camp and will battle for the final safety spot.
Shane Walton’s injury may have fatally damaged his chances to make the final cut, but he would be a value member of the practice squad. Walton will be battling Janssen Patton for that honor. See if Patton can make some noise in the preseason games.
There is really no competition for P Chris Gardocki, PK Jeff Reed and LS Mike Schneck. The first comments on Gardocki’s camp are promising. I am sure everyone will note the depth of Reed’s kickoffs.
Oh yeah, Ben Roethlisberger will have fans calling for him to start just after one preseason game. Charlie Batch doesn’t look all that sharp in camp, so look for Brian St. Pierre to give Cowher something to chew on concerning the QB depth chart.