The score remained close throughout the first preseason game against the Eagles ending in a loss when the Eagles drove down the field and scored a field goal to go up 24-23 in the last couple minutes of the opening game.
” Itâ€™s really a litmus test in terms of where you are from a conditioning standpoint. How they battle the anxiety of playing in stadiums, and how that affects them from a fuel standpoint. You always come out of the first preseason game with a better understanding of that.” Â Coach Tomlin said earlier on the day speaking on what preseason games can show you. The first game brought to light several weaknesses that will need to continue to be addressed throughout training camp. Both the offense and the defense showed areas where improvements can be made.
Before the game, Coach Tomlin commented, “Steve McLendonÂ has had an awesome camp. Heâ€™s really taken off from how he finished the 2011 season as a young man on the rise and has really come into his own as a professional. Not only physically in terms of talent and the development of his body, but also the understanding of the position. Itâ€™s showing up on the field.” Â Last night showed some of what Coach was talking about – McLendon is starting at nose tackle while Casey Hampton is on the PUP list. McLendon was able to get through the Eagles line several times and getting to QB Michael Vick for a sack early on the Eagles first drive of the game.
There’s an all out battle going on in the secondary for corner duties. According to Coach Tomlin, Keenan LewisÂ gets the nod just on experience. “Cortez AllenÂ andÂ Curtis BrownÂ both have really represented themselves well, and what happens over the next month is going to be critical to determining who comes out there on opening day,” he added regarding the other two players vying for the position.
On offense, the highlight was Chris Rainey, a rookie from University of Florida, who added an explosive element in the backfield. He also covered kick and punt returns on special teams. He’s a versatile player and surely will see more playing time and gain more experience as the season rolls on. With Mendenhall on the PUP list, the running back slot has been filled by Isaac Redman, with his first NFL start last season following Mendenhall’s injury. New offensive coordinator Todd Haley seems to focus on a diverse offense, so look for both Redman, Rainey and Dwyer to be used in different scenarios. Â Both Redman and Dwyer came to camp in the best shape of their careers and are ready to play.
The evening, though, was not without injury. David Johnson was carted off early with what is being reported as a season ending injury. Coach Tomlin said it was a significant knee injury. This is a loss, especially since the Steelers haven’t had a true fullback in some time. No other player on the roster, other than an undrafted rookie from WVU could fill that role. It’s a significant hole, but one that Haley will have to work around.
Mike Adams, rookie left tackle, also left the game with a knee injury – after what was a struggling debut on the field. He allowed two strip sacks of Ben and clearly was having some issues with the speed and strength of the linebackers. Depending on the extent of the knee injury, Adams has lots of room for improvement and will likely be working hard over the next few weeks at camp to be ready for week one. The Steelers took a calculated risk starting both Adams and rookie guard David DeCastro. What we learned? There’s still a lot of work to be done for these young men.
Ben looks in good shape and visibly thinner than he has at any point. Last night proved he’s still able to “be Ben” and scramble. Both Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders looked good. Sanders, specifically, looks in the best shape of his young career. With Mike Wallace still holding out (to his own detriment, as I have stated in other posts), Sanders has an opportunity to show his talent on the field – adding another dimension to what Brown brings.
While the score shows a loss, what was learned on this first outing is priceless. Expect the Steelers to make adjustments and come out on August 19 against the Colts with that knowledge in hand. So far, one game in, I don’t see any big changes in offense, but let’s hope as time rolls on that it’s not nearly as predictable as it was under Bruce Arians.
As Coach Tomlin said, “Â I want to see these guys play with the sense of urgency thatâ€™s required in the National Football League. Practices here in Latrobe have been spirited and very competitive, but as all know that the volume gets turned up in the stadiums.” Looking forward to seeing what happens in preseason game 2.
Here we go. Football season is underway!