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Thoughts On Steelers First Preseason Game

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The Pittsburgh Steelers fell to the New York Giants 18-13 in Saturday night’s preseason debut. I note the score because I love being on Twitter during these meaningless games and watching Steeler Nation freak out over such minute details. I guess such passion even for games featuring a bunch of guys who’ll be selling car insurance two weeks from now goes hand in hand with having the best fan base in all of football. Remember, people, the Detroit Lions went undefeated in the preseason before taking an O-fer the entire regular season.

With that in mind, there were some interesting storylines coming out of the game:

– The running back battle. Le’Veon Bell went from being listed third on the depth chart to earning reps with the first team offense to not playing at all because of a sore knee. Isaac Redman started the game but was relieved after only two carries. That’s when the weirdness began.

The next man up wasn’t Jonathan Dwyer or even Baron Batch. It was LaRod Stephens-Howling. When the day was done, Stephens-Howling would lead all backs with 7 carries for 40 yards. When the Steelers signed LSH, I assumed it was to take the Mewelde Moore/Chris Rainey third down pass catching scatback role. Never did I suspect the Steelers saw him as a featured or even change-of-pace back. One of the main reasons the Cardinals didn’t bother to re-sign him and opted to bring over Rashard Mendenhall instead was they wanted a featured back which LSH decidedly is not.

I dunno if LSH’s increased workload was to get the new guy acclimated to the offense or if Jonathan Dwyer (who would rush 6 times for only 15 yards against second string competition) did something to displease Mike Tomlin. Whatever the case, I don’t mind LaRod being used in an Erric Pegram type role once Bell returns but if they think giving him 20-25 carries will cure the anemic running game, they’re nuts.

– The Wide Receiver Class of ’13 may just rival the Class of ’10. Markus Wheaton got off to an abysmal start. He dropped a pass, took out his own teammate (LB Stevenson Sylvester, who is day-to-day with a sprained ankle) and then false started. But he flashed some nifty moves and play-making ability which could see him playing the slot before too long. Fellow rookie Justin Brown, the lone big wide out (6’3) remaining on the roster, was even more impressive, leading all receivers with 4 catches for 32 yards. I’m not predicating either will burst on the scene like Mike Wallace did back in 2009 but I could see both making contributions to this team before all is said and done.

– When the Steelers took Landry Jones in the fourth round, a bunch of people lost their damn minds. Local reporters were claiming he’d beat out Bruce Gradkowski for the back-up job while Charlie Batch (among many others) claimed Landry would eventually be Ben Roethlisberger‘s heir apparent. While, young Landry began his Steelers career in positively Mark Sanchezian fashion – bobbling a hand-off, running into his own man and then fumbling the ball into the end zone for a safety. At least he didn’t run headfirst into anybody’s ass.

I know it was Jones’ first NFL action, albeit against third and fourth stringers. Just like calling him Ben’s eventual heir is ridiculous, I’m not gonna throw up my hands and declare him the latest late round dud ala Dennis Dixon or Tee Martin (who was drafted 36 players ahead of Tom Brady, by the way). However, let’s let the kid play a little before we start figuring out what we have.

Seton-La Salle’s own Bruce Gradkowski shouldn’t be worried about losing his spot any time soon. In fact, Gradkowski looks poised to assume Batch’s title of “Best Back-up in the NFL.” Jones settled down and completed 5/9 for 48 yards although he made a few dangerous throws that would probably be picked against first string competition. John Parker Wilson actually looked the better of the two young QBs even though he has no chance of beating out Jones. I’m not sure of the practice squad rules but if he keeps it up, I could see them stashing him on the practice squad since there is no way the Steelers will carry four QBs on the main roster.

– Outside of running back, perhaps the most heated battle is at OLB where Jason Worilds is trying to hold off first round pick Jarvis Jones. The presence of a youngster challenging for his spot unleashed Worilds’ inner badass as he took not one but two James Harrison Memorial Roughing the Passer penalties. He did come up with a nice coverage sack, though.

Jones, meanwhile, was as advertised. He pounced on a fumble after a bad handoff on his very first series and went after the quarterback with reckless intent. Unfortunately, you could see he was still raw, trying too hard to beat guys off the corner with pure speed and frequently getting out of position on pass plays. I still think Worilds is gonna start but Jones will certainly get his fair share of snaps.

– Special teams. The Steelers got their first punt of the season blocked. Didn’t we fire Amos Jones?