I actually always look forward to preseason football. I mean I'm always worried about the injury bug, but I love seeing all the young rookies trying to make their mark. What diehard football fan can't wait to see their top draft picks in uniform.
Tonight's the first Steelers preseason game, against the Eagles. The game starts at 7:30pm EST. Those not in the Pittsburgh area, but lucky enough to have NFL Network will get to see the game live. Here are some of the guys I'm keeping an eye out for:
- Rashard Mendenhall, RB - Our #1 draft pick. I'm anxious to see how well he does in short yardage situations—since the Steelers Coaching staff has been really looking for a power inside runner to compliment parker.
- Gary Russell, RB - Russell is a second year undrafted player. He played his college ball in Minnesota with Lawrence Maroney. I was really impressed with him last year (and in college) and his running style reminds me of Emmit Smith. He tends to always fall forward. Even with Melwede Moore and Rashard Mendenhall on the team, I still won't be surprised if Russell finds his way into the normal rotation.
- Limas Sweed, WR - Can't wait to see our #2 pick. The Steelers discovered he had an astigmatism a few weeks ago and fitted him with contacts. He claims he's seeing the ball much better now too.
- Dallas Baker, WR - Baker is another second year player who supposedly had a tremendous spring camp. Baker "The Touchdown Maker" was hidden on the practice squad, but everything I've heard from camp sounds like he'll make the team. If he pans out, the Steelers will have a ridiculously talented WR corp.
- Kyle Clement, DE - The Steelers need youth and depth on the defensive line. Clement comes from a small school program, but has lots of athleticism. It sounds like he's been spotty in camp, but I'm anxious to see how the guy plays in a real game.
- Roy Lewis, DB - From everything I've read, this undrafted rookie has really stood out in camp. They have him playing both FS and CB. His coverage skills are supposedly very solid and he can really lay the wood when making a tackle.
- Dennis Dixon, QB - Can this kid be the future backup QB? He started off pretty poorly in training camp, but it's said he's getting much better every day. The Steelers scouting team hasn't done a very good job evaluating late round QBs lately. There's no doubt Dixon is a heck of an athlete, but will he be able to handle the reigns of QB if he's asked to play. Hopefully I'll get a feel for that tonight.
- Bruce Davis, OLB - Another rookie, who terrorized opposing QBs the past few years in the PAC-10 as a defensive end. While its said he needs to bulk up a bit (his upper body strength is reported to not be great) he was primarily a speed rusher in College. He put up like 22 1/2 sacks the past two years at UCLA, so I'm hoping we have our future bookend to Lamar Woodley.
- Lamar Woodley, OLB - Woodley's a second year player, who from all reports, has been the star of camp. Word is he's unblockable and everyone says he reminds them of Shawn Merriman. Kevin Greene, who came in a special advisor to the LB corp, said Woodley might be the best rushing LB to every put on the Black-n-Gold (and that says a ton coming from KG.)
- Paul Ernster, P - Yeah, I know a punter. Who pays attention to a punter. Well, the Steelers starting Punter (Daniel Sepulveda) was injured on the first few days of camp. Since the Steelers didn't have a second punter, they called this guy up and got him into camp. I saw Ernster punt the couple of games he played in last year and he really stunk. Word from camp is that he shanks a couple, then booms a couple—which is what I remember as well. Consistency and accuracy are two of the key components I look for in a Punter and constantly shanking the ball in practice does not bode well to me.
I'm also going to really be paying special attention to special teams. The Steelers have brought in a number of big name players to try and find a top-notch Punt Returner (Eddie Drummond, Melwede Moore, Jeremy Bloom, etc.) The Steelers Special Teams has been anything but special the past few years, so I'm hoping to see some improvement. Poor special teams cost us a couple of games last year (and almost cost us a couple others.)
So, there's lots to look forward to in a preseason game, but most importantly it means the regular season is getting closer!