Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Steelers War of Attrition Begins vs. Giants; Injury Report


The wait is over. Finally, a glimpse. The football gods once again have seen fit to bless us with their favorite sons. And Saturday night, those belonging to the Pittsburgh Steelers begin their preseason journey to Mount Lombardi against the New York Giants.

In preparation for this game and for the season, the Steelers have met with some debilitating injuries that have caused roster adjustments, a waiver claim and more reasons to declare "next man up!"

To date, the total injuries that have befallen the Steelers total as many as a baker's dozen, and they now have almost as many injured tight ends as healthy ones. Those tights ends and the rest of the MASH unit will be covered in the TIDBITS section.

So, with a pile of bodies to sift through, will the Steelers be able to field a team for Saturday? Naturally, yes. But that presents some specific things to look for in this first preseason game. Here are six players and things to watch for as two of the NFL's oldest franchises do battle.

SECONDARY(DEPTH):
With four defensive backs, including one starter sidelined, certain players will have to step up and state their case. Does the world class speed of DeMarcus Van Dyke and Isaiah Green make up for their lack of the typical build of the strong, run-defending Steelers cornerbacks? While one of them may make the team because of their speed, they would have to show special teams abilities. Playing principally as the punt gunner, think of sub 4.35/40 speed coupled with being able to break off a block at the line and race down the field to force a fair catch. That is a very valuable ability.

Unfortunately for Van Dyke, though, he likely won't play as he hasn't practiced this week. That affords more of a chance for the much-traveled Josh Victorian. - http://tinyurl.com/m56mpae

WIDE RECEIVERS (5 & 6 SPOTS):
Unfortunately, veteran wide receiver Plaxico Burress tore his rotator cuff during practice. It likely ends his season, and career, leaving the door open for Justin Brown and David Gilreath to do battle for the fifth wide receiver spot on the roster, unless another veteran is signed.

But the one who may now have the best chance at the number five spot is Derek Moye. His 6-5, 215-pound frame combined with 4.4/40 speed is hard to ignore. He has shown consistent hands catching everything thrown at him. He is a very good route runner and has been making big plays in Training Camp, already working his way up to third in line behind Antonio Brown and Jerricho Cotchery on one side of the offensive depth chart.

Because of the Burress injury, even return specialist Reggie Dunn has a greater chance to make the squad as a sixth wide receiver/special teams ace. As Mark Kaboly said on his Twitter, @MarkKaboly_Trib, account: "(The) wild card is Reggie Dunn. A kickoff return or two in preseason and now he's in mix...”

LINEBACKERS (PASS RUSH/YOUTH):
Last year's darling makes way for this year's. Alan Baxter is very explosive off the edge, is about the same height as former Training Camp darling Alan Robinson. He doesn't have the same lower body strength as Robinson or Woodley, his speed off the snap has at times been scary.

First-round pick Jarvis Jones is starting to make his case. Per Kaboly, "After the show the rookie put on against the third-team offense at the end of practice Wednesday, it might be time for the Steelers to reward Jones with a promotion. Within a span of five plays, Jones plowed over would-be blocker David Gilreath; recognized a screen pass while rushing the quarterback, peeled off into the flat and knocked the ball away from Baron Batch; knocked the ball away from tight end Peter Tuitupou coming across the middle; and knocked down another pass in the middle of the field while playing zone."

Who hasn't been heard from much is Jason Worilds, and that's because of a big toe injury he suffered causing him to miss last Friday's practice. He returned to practice early this week, but he hasn't been playing like a man with someone nipping at his heals.

Marshall McFadden, as we've written before, has a real chance at the backup Buck position. His performance in the early stages of Camp has been inspiring as he is showing he wants a spot on this team. So have some of his competitors, though, such as Stevenson Sylvester. It's imperative, therefore, that McFadden has a good performance Saturday.


JAMIE MCCOY:
Because of the Steelers now being bereft at tight end, McCoy's performance is crucial. He and David Paulson should see more playing time than most other starters. Along with tight end, Tomlin has stated that McCoy will also see time at fullback behind Will Johnson. So, he's going to be busy. If he wants to take advantage of the injuries at the tight end position, he needs to prove he's ready for the bright lights.

MIKE GOLIC, JR.:
Passion for the game gets you so far. Being a student of the game will help get you further. Even having name and pedigree can be a real boon to your career. But you can only go so far if you don't have the big boy strength required for the offensive line positions in the NFL. And that's where Golic, jr. has his issues.

One of those who was major competition for him was Nik Embernate who is now on Injured Reserve. Now Golic's major competition is Joe Long, another young player with NFL pedigree - he is the brother of the St. Louis Rams' Jake Long. But, if he can hold his own Saturday, he can build his case for being the last lineman kept.

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TIDBITS: Heath Miller (with no timetable for his return) and David Johnson are on the Active PUP list with knee injuries, and now they won't have Matt Spaeth until at least the 6th week of the regular season, if his Lisfranc injury does in fact have an 8-10 week turnaround.

Add to those four, Nik Embernate is on injured reserve after being waived/injured, Cortez Allen (knee) is sidelined for all of preseason, and defensive backs Curtis Brown (ankle), Terry Hawthorne (knee) and DeMarcus Van Dyke (hamstring) are down without definite timetables. Offensive tackle Guy Whimper was carted off the field Thursday with an undisclosed injury, although it isn't thought to be serious, and Nick Williams, Cameron Heyward and Emmanuel Sanders all missed at least some practice Thursday and/or Friday.

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Tomlin on rookie WR Markus Wheaton: "I've really been impressed with his above-the-neck game."

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Steelers have re-signed OT Mike Farrell and released CB Buddy Jackson.