The Pittsburgh Steelers had their last walk-through in Latrobe Saturday morning and will now shift gears into game mode before taking on the Indianapolis Colts in their Heinz Field season debut. For fans, this is an exciting time as the team continues to take shape. However, for the players and staff they just want to make it through without further injury.Bruce Arians get a warm reception? These are just two of many that will be on display.
As for the game itself, there is a lot for fans to pay attention to with both players and schemes. The biggest may be the continued development of the offense and what types of new wrinkles have been installed during the week. Yes, it was understandably vanilla in the preseason opener, and one should not expect much more, but there has to be some new additions.
Along those lines, two areas to close pay attention to are the offensive line and running back situation. The starting offensive line may be completely different from last week, and it will be see how the new grouping goes, especially at left guard where Willie Colon will be making his preseason debut. By all accounts, he has been one of the highlights of training camp, and a solid performance in game action could truly help galvanize the offensive line.
Rookie offensive guard David DeCastro will also be looking to build upon his solid opener and continue to grow into the player the Steelers expected him when plucking him in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. At tackle, the situation is a bit different as the team is battling some injuries. At this point, it is unknown how much action Max Starks (ACL) and rookie Mike Adams (knee) will see (if any). If they are limited, this could be a huge opportunity for Ramon Foster, who has slid outside to tackle in their absence.
In the backfield, running backs Jonathan Dwyer and Baron Batch should see the majority of the carries with Will Johnson getting an extended look at fullback. Rookie back Chris Rainey will also get touches, but with his diminutive size, those should be monitored during preseason. At quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger will start and play two-to-three series before giving way to veteran Charlie Batch. After Batch, fans should look for first-year QB Jerrod Johnson to get the majority of snaps during the second half. Wide receivers Antonio Brown, Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanual Sanders will look to continue to get comfortable on offense. However, the battles for the final wide receiver spots are wide open. Marquis Maze and Toney Clemons look to be battling it out, but are far from locks and a good game by any of the unknown commodities on the roster could give their chances a boost. The tight end position has been quiet. With the new addition of Justin Peelle, there will be some action behind Heath Miller.
On defense, one player to continue to watch is nose tackle Steve McClendon, who has been dominant during camp and in game action. His development on the interior of the defensive line has been one of the most important stories of training camp.
This game should also mark the return of both Brett Keisel and Cameron Hayward to game action. With those two back in the fold, fans can focus on the apparent battle between Al Woods and Corbin Bryant for the potential last spot along the defensive front. Both Bryant and Woods have shown signs, but their performance in game action could give one an advantage.
One of the big stories of the week came from the linebacker position, where Pro Bowl outside linebacker James Harrison had minor knee surgery and may not be available until week one. His continued absence and the absence of Jason Worilds has given Chris Carter a huge chance, and he has performed well. This game will be big for Carter to continue to solidify his position as a potential starter. Linebackers Brandon Johnson, Stevenson Sylvester and Adrian Robinson could also get looks outside and need to perform.
The battle between Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen is the on to watch on game day. Both players have had solid camps and look to solidify the fort opposite Ike Taylor. Cornerback Curtis Brown will also look to bounce back from a rough game against the Philadelphia Eagles. The play of the back up safeties should also be monitored. With the season opener in Denver, the Steelers will likely open up without starter Ryan Clark, who has sat out the past two-games played in the mile high city.
Special teams is always at the forefront of preseason games as players are looking to open some eyes and earn a roster spot based on their play. In the return game, Rainey, Maze and a couple other players will take their turns on punts and kick-offs, a wide open job with Antonio Brown focusing on wide receiver. One last position of interest for fans should be punter, as undrafted rookie free agent may be in the lead for the roster spot as incumbent Jeremy Kapinos has been battling a back injury throughout camp.
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