By Dale Grdnic
LATROBE, Pa. — It has been noted that in another preseason opener, the Denver Broncos and Dallas Cowboys discussed various parameters for their game Thursday night, won 24-23 by the host Cowboys. Presumably, the coaches decided not to blitz much and run vanilla offenses and defenses.
Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin did not afford the same courtesy, or ridiculous request, depending on your line of thinking, to Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan about their preseason opener tonight at 7:30 at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.
“I have not,” Tomlin said when asked if he has contacted Shanahan. “That’s just not my deal. I just show up and play. I don’t care what they do.”
The Steelers versus the Redskins, at first blush, appears to be a game between franchises at the opposite end of the spectrum in the NFL.
The Steelers have six total Super Bowl titles and made three appearances in the big game in the past six years with two victories, but a loss after this past season to the Green Bay Packers. The Steelers are among the favorites to represent the AFC in the battle for the Lombardi Trophy again this season.
The once-proud Redskins have made the playoffs just twice in the past decade and have not won a Super Bowl since 1991. They have three Super Bowl titles, but fans shouldn’t expect the Skins to compete for another for a while under second-year head coach Mike Shanahan.
Rex Grossman is the starting quarterback, and his NFL career is sketchy at best. Even if he is throwing to Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney, it’s hard to believe that Grossman will be able to get the job done in Washington.
“This game is very important, not just because there’s competition,” Grossman said in a preseason interview on Comcast SportsNet. “In this league, you want players to produce in games, so this is the first real test.”
Defensively, middle linebacker London Fletcher is the anchor, while DeAngelo Hall is a top cornerback. The Redskins were 6-10 last season with 302 points scored and 377 allowed. And in initial preseason games like this, Tomlin is more concerned with his team and not the opposition.
“We’re excited about this opportunity to take this significant step in our team development, which of course is to go inside an NFL stadium and play against unfamiliar faces and maybe even unfamiliar schemes,” Tomlin said. “We’re going to take a simple approach to this in terms of the evaluation of our men.
“We want to see who can block under those conditions, tackle, run, pass, kick, etc. (So), this will be a significant step. It will be telling in some instances of what people are capable of and willing to do. So, we are excited about it but we’ll just continue to work hard no matter what happens.”
The Steelers have several players to watch out for tonight. Along with Baraka Atkins, first-year player Mortty Ivy from West Virginia should get a good look at outside linebacker. Ivy has been a big-hitter when he’s gotten the chance.
Also defensively, look for starter Bryant McFadden to be pushed by William Gay, Kennan Lewis and Crezdon Butler tonight. Gay likely will start, while Lewis is a key backup. Butler has missed much time due to injuries, while McFadden and rookies Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen have been out nearly all of camp.
The battle at right offensive guard also should be interesting between starter Ramon Foster and second-year player Chris Scott. Doug Legursky is in the mix as well, and he’ll make the team as a backup center with guard skills as well. However, Foster and Scott are big and strong and should have the inside track.
Running backs Jonathan Dwyer and John Clay must step up since Baron Batch is out for the season with an ACL tear in his left knee. He should go on injured reserve soon and have surgery when the swelling dissipates, so it’s time for either Dwyer and Clay to step up to go with starter Rashard Mendenhall, backup Isaac Redman and third-down back Mewelde Moore as the fourth back.