Steelers @ Panthers
The Pittsburgh Steelers wrapup the preseason tonight in Carolina and the focus of many players including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is on their week 1 showdown with the Baltimore Ravens.
The key for the Steelers tonight is just getting out of Carolina healthy.
Quarterback Charlie Batch will get the start for the Steelers, while Roethlisberger who has been redhot in the preseason, will sit this one out. Several key players such as Troy Polamalu are also possibilities to sit. Meanwhile, WR Jerricho Cotchery, OLB Chris Carter and CB Ike Taylor have already been ruled out for tonight’s game.
Expectations are CB Cortez Allen and WR Emmanuel Sanders will make their first appearances of the preseason.
The Panthers intend to play their starters for two series.
The final preseason game has some weight to final roster decisions but not a ton as several personnel decisions are already made before tonight’s game.
However, a tough position battle like the 9th linebacker spot is a position that could be impacted with the likes of Mortty Ivy and Mario Harvey or Baraka Atkins battling for the final spot (if the Steelers go with nine linebackers again) and all three looking to make a last impression.
The Steelers will begin informing players they intend to cut on Friday.
Key roster decisions still loom including at cornerback, defensive line, and final depth spots on the O-line, tight end and at linebacker
Cornerback: The Steelers have always carried 6 cornerbacks under Mike Tomlin but this could be the year to carry seven. An easy way to open up a roster spot would be to release Arnaz Battle and not keep six wide receivers.
The concensus right now is that the six locks at cornerback are: Ike Taylor, Bryant McFadden, Keenan Lewis, William Gay, Crezdon Butler and Curtis Brown.
There has been no indications that the Steelers intend to release one of Bryant McFadden or William Gay to open up a roster spot for a Donovan Warren or Cortez Allen.
The player a lot of observers will be watching tonight is Cortez Allen, the team’s 4th round pick. Regardless of how Allen performs tonight, it probably won’t have much impact on his status. He has never been regarded as a player who would contribute this season and was considered a development pick for 2011 when drafted.
The decision for the Steelers is whether to create an extra roster spot for Allen who will be looked at for possible contribution in 2012 not 2011, and go into the season with seven cornerbacks.
Defensive Line: Steve McLendon who can play defensive tackle and defensive end, has made a strong push for the primary backup spot at DT. Veteran Chris Hoke has felt the heat and his roster spot could be in jeopardy.
Hoke though remains ahead of McLendon on the depth chart and there are questions about how comfortable the Steelers would be going into the season with McLendon a snap away from being their starting defensive tackle.
The Steelers last season carried 6 defensive linemen and due to Hampton’s age, could carry seven this season.
Linebackers: There continues to be an assumption that 5th round pick Chris Carter will be on the team, due to how intrigued the Steelers are about his potential. Like Cortez Allen, Carter was seen as a development pick for 2011.
It that’s the case (presuming Carter is on the team), 8 linebacker spots are locked in with LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, James Farrior, James Harrison, Larry Foote, Stevenson Sylvester, Jason Worilds and Carter.
I’m now told rookie Mario Harvey remains in the mix for one of the final linebacker spots, despite being sidelined for much of camp and the preseason. Tonight is a big game for him and if the Steelers carry nine linebackers, Harvey, Mortty Ivy or Baraka Atkins have to sell the the Steelers on the fact that one of them can be a difference maker on special teams.
Ivy is the front runner for the 9th spot.
Offensive line: How the final depth spots on the offensive line play out, will be very intriguing to see.
Jonathan Scott, Chris Kemoeatu, Maurkice Pouncey, Doug Legursky, Willie Colon and Marcus Gilbert are the six locks. It’s still hard to imagine Ramon Foster not making the team and indications are Trai Essex will make the team. Under that scenario, one spot is open and maybe two if the Steelers were to carry 10 offensive linemen.
Chris Scott or Tony Hills?
The Steelers have no faith in Tony Hills as a tackle and he’s considered a work in progress at right guard so that maybe enough for the team to cut him loose and save the cap space by going with cheaper options such as Chris Scott who can play guard and tackle.
Scott has been a disappointment in the preseason after a strong first two weeks of practices where he was initially in the mix for the starting right guard job. Overall, the NFL game has been a little too much for him so far.
Scott though remains an intriguing player who arguably is still going through his first training camp. 6th round pick Keith Williams was a good story early in camp but he is destined for the practice squad.
Tight End: The Steelers are not thrilled about any of their choices for the No. 3 tight end spot. That lists includes 10 year veteran John Gilmore, rookie Wesyle Saunders and Jamie McCoy. Gilmore who has largely been a disappointment, is believed to be the front runner by default due to his experience.