The Pittsburgh Steelers will have their dress rehearsal of sorts when they take on the Buffalo Bills in what may be the most important preseason game of the season. With that being said the starters should play the first half (maybe more / maybe less), and fans should get a taste of what to expect (at least on defense) when the season starts in Denver.Isaac Redman back in the fold, and veteran Max Starks anchoring the left side, this could be the opening day line up minus Mike Wallace if and when he returns.
With Starks coming back to game action for the first time, look for him to be used sparingly, as the team does not want to overwork him. The starting line will look similar to last week, but differences will again exist. Guards Willie Colon and rookie offensive guard David DeCastro will also be looking to build upon their solid look inside, and continue to build chemistry in the interior. One big thing to pay attention to is when Starks gets a rest, who takes over at left tackle.
With Redman back, it will be interesting to see how the carries are split. Running back Jonathan Dwyer has been solid and should get more touches in the base offense. Behind Redman and Dwyer, Baron Batch is fighting for a roster spot and should see extensive action in the second half. Rookie back Chris Rainey will also get touches, but with his diminutive size, those should be monitored during preseason.
In the second half, veterans Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich will get the call behind Roethlisberger. This may be a big game for the veterans as young signal caller Jerrod Johnson has looked good during game action and may be a hard cut.
Wide receivers Antonio Brown, Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders will look to continue to get comfortable on offense. However, the battles for the final wide receiver spots are wide open. David Gilreath had a huge game against the Indianapolis Colts and will look to build upon that in his attempt to latch on to the fifth wide receiver position.
Maybe this will be the game that Todd Haley decides to open the playbook for the tight ends. The tight end position has been quiet. With the new addition of Justin Peelle, and the performance of rookie David Paulson, 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. Especially with the word of Casey Hampton’s elbow injury.
With Hampton trying to make it for week one, it will be interesting to see how the numbers shake out on the defensive line, as of now there looks to be six locks for the roster. If the Steelers keep seven, the apparent battle is 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.
At linebacker, the performances of Sean Spence and Chris Carter have been refreshing. Carter has had huge opportunity, 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 and Adrian Robinson could also get looks outside and need to perform. Another linebacker to watch is Morrty Ivy, especially on special teams. He came up with a big block, and may move ahead of the injured Stevenson Sylvester with another solid all-round game.
The battle between Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen is the one to watch on game day. Both players have had solid camps and look to solidify the fort opposite Ike Taylor.. 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 (especially in a week where the Special Teams Coach was fired) 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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