This week marks the most important week of the NFL preseason. Every team will play their starters for at least the first half of their respective games, and will get a clear indication of where their team is heading into the regular season.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have numerous things to evaluate in this upcoming preseason game against the Buffalo Bills. Here are the five things that I think that are the most important for the Steelers to focus on tomorrow atBuffalo:
Pittsburgh has decided to start Max Starks in Saturday night’s game. Starks was recently activated from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, and practiced with the first-team offense all week. The nine-year veteran will take the place of rookie Mike Adams, who has struggled since the start of training camp, and was hampered by a knee sprain in preseason opener. Starks will definitely get a true test in this game. He will be lined up across one of the best pass rushers in the league, defensive end Mario Williams. Along with focusing on Starks’ production, how his reconstructed knee holds up will also be looked upon.
This has probably been the most talked about position since the start of Steelers camp. Rashard Mendenhall is off the PUP list, but isn’t expected to play until sometime in the first few weeks of the regular season. Mendenhall’s replacement, Isaac Redman, will get the start this game, despite missing approximately the last two weeks with a hip injury sustained in the first preseason game versus the Philadelphia Eagles. The third-year back did practice all week, and said that his hip has vastly improved. Along with Redman’s play and status of his hip, reserve backs Baron Batch, Jonathan Dwyer, and rookie Chris Rainey will be closely observed as well.
James Harrison and Jason Worilds are still on the PUP list with a knee injury and a wrist injury respectively. This leaves second-year linebacker Chris Carter to start at outside linebacker. Carter, who played defensive end in college, has gotten all of the first-team reps with the defense since training camp. Along with Harrison and Worilds, Stevenson Sylvester is out with a sprained medial collateral ligament. Eleven-year veteran Larry Foote will more than likely fill the void left by Sylvester.
There is no question that Ike Taylor will hold down the right cornerback spot. The question is who will claim the spot opposite Taylor. Cortez Allen, Curtis Brown, and Keenan Lewis are all vying for the starting spot, and as of right now, it looks like Allen is a step above the other two. However, Lewis is more likely to get the start against Buffalo.
No, there isn’t anyone on the Steelers’ team who is going to bump Ben Roethlisberger from the starting position. This focus will be on Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich. Second-year quarterback Jerrod Johnson will not play, and is more than likely to be the third-string quarterback going into the regular season. This leaves the 15-year veteran Batch, and the 10-year veteran Leftwich. One will be the backup to Roethlisberger, and mentor to Johnson, while the other will more than likely be released when Pittsburgh trims their roster down to 53 players.
Each of the aforementioned focal points will be vital to the Steelers at the start of the regular season. The production on the left side of the offensive line needs to ensure that Big Ben is comfortable in the pocket. The running game has to be healthy and productive since there is limited depth. The same goes for the linebackers and their pass rushing, which will also help the cornerbacks in passing situations. As for the backup quarterback, well, having an experienced QB waiting in the wings is never a bad thing.
Two more weeks, then the real football begins folks!
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