By Dale Grdnic
LATROBE, Pa. — As the Pittsburgh Steelers get set for their second preseason game with the New York Giants Saturday night, there are several player battles to keep an eye on during this matchup.
How each player performs against the Giants could go a long way toward determining their status with the Steelers in the upcoming season.
Byron Leftwich-Dennis Dixon
What the Steelers must determine doesn’t just concern the opening four games this season, while quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is suspended, but who will be his backup for now as well as the near the future. Dixon has one more year on his initial contract, and it’s unlikely that he’ll want to stay with the Steelers as a backup, let alone the No. 3 guy.
While the Steelers coaches were thrilled that Dixon improved the past week or so in practice and had a solid opening game, albeit against a bad franchise’s even worse third team, he has a long way to go to be more than a spot player with special packages designed to highlight his speed and athleticism.
Frankly, I don’t believe Leftwich or Dixon has a long-term future in Pittsburgh, unless one of them is happy as a backup, but I doubt that’s the case with either. So, the next couple games are auditions, for the season with the Steelers and the future as well.
Justin Hartwig-Maurkice Pouncey
Hartwig will start, but his days with the Steelers are numbered. And the number is one, as in No. 1 pick Pouncey, the club’s future center. And the future is now, as he’ll get another shot with the first team against the Giants. Hartwig was serviceable for two years, but Pouncey will be spectacular for the next 10.
And he’s looking forward to getting a chance against the formidable Giants.
“Their whole D-line stands out to me,” Pouncey said.
“All them boys are pretty good. They’re real good, so we’re going to have a tough one ahead of us. (But) I’m going to show my game. I’m going aggressive. I’m not going to half-step it, but I’m not trying to move along too fast here.
“I just want to take it day by day. Once I looked at my film, I noticed that I still have to work on my technique quite a bit now. The mental stuff, I’ve got the playbook down pretty good after all spring and summer, and the physical stuff I’ve been able to handle. But my technique, I’m still working on that.”
Flozell Adams-Jonathan Scott
It wasn’t a ringing endorsement for Scott, a four-year veteran, when Adams was signed at the 11th hour before training camp. And now, it’s Adams who must be a little disappointed that Scott is getting a shot with the first team.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin noted that Adams will get the start against the Giants, but Scott will share first-team reps. Adams has been rather lackluster since his acquisition. He didn’t appear to be motivated during camp, and he clearly wasn’t able to turn it up for the Detroit game.
Scott has been better than he was in the spring, and he appears to be the type of player that offensive line coach Sean Kugler endorsed from his days in Buffalo. It will be difficult for him to beat out Adams, but if he doesn’t play better that will make it easier for Scott to get a starting role.
“I know the offensive line was disappointed in their performance, too, and I think they’ll tell you that if you asked them,” Roethlisberger said. “The thing is, it’s hard to get into any kind of rhythm when you play only a quarter, especially in the opening game in the preseason.
“So, you never know what would have happened if they would have played into the second or third quarter. They hold themselves to a pretty high standard, too, so, I expect a better performance from them this week. And I definitely know that they’re looking forward to this next game.”
Jonathan Dwyer-Isaac Redman-Frank Summers-Justin Vincent-Dwayne Wright
These guys are all battling to fill the remaining roster spots after starter Rashard Mendenhall and veteran Mewelde Moore. There likely are five total spots open, but it depends what the Steelers want to do with the fullback. Tomlin explained the players vying for that spot.
“Frank Summers is working there,” Tomlin said. “Sean McHugh is working there and at tight end, as is David Johnson. And, of course, we put (Doug) Legursky back there in short-yardage and goal-line situations.”
Mendenhall and Dwyer have done absolutely nothing during camp. Both have been injured for parts of it and were ineffective when they got a chance. Dwyer has flashed a bit, but he won’t be playing this week.
Redman should easily make the team, while Vincent and Wright have been solid when given opportunities. They are longer shots to make the final roster, but that depends on what the Steelers due with the fullback spot.
Defensively, there is less competition for the starting roles. Sure, second-year players like Ziggy Hood and Keenan Lewis are pushing for playing time. And they should get more this season, but pushing vested starters out on the D-line or the secondary is unlikely. At least in the beginning of the season.
And even that is still several weeks away.