By Dale Grdnic
LATROBE, Pa. — The Philadelphia Eagles quickly moved to contender status with big free-agent signings before training camp began, and they won their opening preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens last week.
So, the Pittsburgh Steelers (0-1) should be in for a much stiffer test against the Eagles (1-0) in the second preseason game Thursday night at 8 at Heinz Field.
“This is a significant step (since it’s) our second time out,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday morning. “We’re looking for improvement, quite frankly, in all areas.”
Tomlin ruled out the following players for the Eagles game: WR Emmanuel Sanders, LB Mario Harvey, CBs Cortez Allen, Crezdon Butler, Bryant McFadden and Ike Taylor, who had surgery today to repair damage to his broken left thumb; Chris Kemoeatu, “who is working his way back and had a nice day (Monday), but won’t have enough practice opportunities for my comfort to allow him to participate in the game,” Tomlin added.
Tomlin also noted that the first team is expected to play more than they did in the last game, but he wouldn’t be more specific other than to say it could be from 20-25 snaps. He added that Doug Legursky will start at left guard, while Tony Hills will be the starting right guard.
“Tony represented himself very well in his guard play in the first game,” Tomlin said. “We gave Chris Scott a shot to play with the first unit, and Tony came in after that. Hopefully, we’ll see how Tony fares against Philadelphia’s first unit.”
Tomlin liked the competition at right guard between last season’s final starter, Ramon Foster; Legursky, Chris Scott and Hills. Tomlin noted that Hills likely will stay in the game a little longer than other first-teamers like Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward, Rashard Mendenhall and Heath Miller, who left the previous game after one series. A longer look will be used for evaluation purposes, Tomlin said.
Running back Jonathan Dwyer should fall into that category as well. He was coming on in training camp after starting slowly due to conditioning issues, but he had just four carries for five yards in the opener against the Redskins. Dwyer said Tuesday that he has lost 15 pounds since camp began two weeks ago due to intense workouts and eating healthier.
“We didn’t see enough of him, quite frankly, due to circumstances,” Tomlin said. “We were behind, but I’m definitely interested in giving him more looks, not only Thursday night but for the remainder of the preseason to give him an opportunity to make an accounting of what he’s capable of.”
Tomlin noted that the Steelers had just 48 offensive snaps due to their inefficiency on third down and their defense’s inability to get off the field.
James Harrison and Troy Polamalu are playing against Philadelphia, after sitting out the opener, but veteran defensive ends Brett Keisel (right ankle) and Aaron Smith (right knee) might not play. If they can’t go, their spots will be taken by third-year pro Ziggy Hood and rookie Cam Heyward.
John Clay said that after several screw-ups by him during a Monday practice drill, running backs coach Kirby Wilson told him to “get outta here,” and he took that literally. Clay started walking back to the locker room instead of just going to the sideline away from the drill. So, it was just a misunderstanding, Clay said, and not his attempt to leave the team like many surmised.
A comical situation occurred near the end of the mid-day interview sessions, as Taylor — fresh from his surgery — approached the lunch room. Taylor gave an interview that was largely unintelligible due to heavy medication he received for the surgery. Taylor tried so hard to answer questions, but struggled at best.