By Dale Grdnic
LATROBE, Pa. — Larry Foote is in his 10th NFL season, but the Pittsburgh Steelers backup inside linebacker still gets excited to play a preseason game.
Not all of those starting four games, mind you, but Foote eagerly anticipates the Steelers’ preseason opener against the Washington Redskins Friday at 7:30 p.m. at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.
“The first two preseason games, anyway, just being in NFL stadiums on the field with your name on a jersey should get any player excited to be able to play in this league,” Foote said Wednesday, as the Steelers prepare for a final full practice before leaving Thursday for Washington.
“So, I guess you could say that I still get some goosebumps, but that’s only for the first two (preseason) games. The last two, most guys are wondering when the regular season’s going to finally arrive. Where’s it at, you know what I’m saying? So, I get it early on, but four preseason games is still a lot.”
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said that his starters likely would play 10 snaps or less against the Redskins, depending on the circumstances, and Foote believed the veteran backups probably would finish the quarter. Then, the younger players would take over and finish the game.
Even after Foote heads to the bench, his contribution does not end. He basically takes on a coaching role to help out those younger players.
“That’s our job,” Foote said. “The veterans who were here when I started did that for me, so I’m going to watch the young guys out there and tell them what I see and coach them up a bit. That’s the thing to do.
“The regular coaches on the sideline can’t see everything, so I’m glad to help out in any way that I can. I’m a fan, too, so I want to see what these guys can do, and I’ll be out there rooting for them, too.”
Notes, Quotes And Anecdotes
Sanders said that while he feels better than he felt since before the Super Bowl, he isn’t going to rush things. Sanders broke his right foot in the big game, but had both feet operated on after the season. However, the second-year wideout had both feet operated on after the season.
“I’m not in control of anything right now,” Sanders said. “I feel really good, and I feel like I can go out and practice. But I’m not going to rush it, because what my mind wants and my body feels might not be truthful to me. They could lie to me, so I’m just going to go by what the doctors say. That’s all I can do.”
Sanders was hopeful that he could practice harder beginning next week.
Second-round draft pick Marcus Gilbert (hamstring) did not look like he would help the Steelers at all during the preseason as little as just a few days ago, but he has had two straight strong practices and with another Wednesday he could play a prominent role in the opening preseason game.
“I’m just happy to be back out there competing after missing the first week or so,” Gilbert said. “We have some good, young guys on the offensive line to mix in with our veterans, so I’m just trying to soak in as much as possible.”
Primarily in practice, Gilbert was matched against No. 1 pick Cameron Heyward. Gilbert has been the backup left offensive tackle, while Heyward is the second-team right defensive end.
“It’s just two young guys going at it,” Gilbert said. “We want to compete and be the best players we can be to reach our potential. I guess the coaches wanted to put me in there to see how I respond, and I think I handled it pretty well.”
Tomlin said that TE Eugene Bright, LB Mario Harvey (leg), WR Adam Mims (hamstring), WR Emmanuel Sanders ( left foot), CB Cortez Allen (hamstring), CB Bryant McFadden (hamstring) and OG Chris Kemoeatu (knee) already have been ruled out for the preseason opener.
Bright and Kemoeatu are still on the PUP list, while Sanders has been out since the beginning of camp with Allen and McFadden. Harvey and Mims were injured this week. That leaves 80-plus players for Tomlin to evaluate.
Ben Roethlisberger will start the game, of course, but Tomlin would not commit to a quarterback rotation among Byron Leftwich, Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch for the backup roles. Leftwich has been working with the second team throughout camp, so Dixon’s and Batch’s roles are the only question marks.
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