Steelers try to drum up excitement
The crowd at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ preseason game Saturday night at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh was very subdued by Steelers’ standards. Of course, it was the first preseason game of the year and there wasn’t a whole lot for Steelers fans to cheer about in the 18-13 loss to the New York Giants.
The announced attendance was 51,966 in a stadium that holds 65,500. As the game wore on, and more and more non-regulars received playing time, the crowd got smaller.
But that’s okay.
The game gave both teams the chance to evaluate the 80-plus players on their rosters. It also gave the players further down on the depth chart an opportunity to impress their current teams, and also the chance to get some video that other teams’ personnel departments will look as cutdown dates come and go.
The two areas that concern me the most at this point are tight end and wide receivers. Standout tight end Heath Miller and backup David Johnson are still on the Physically Unable to Perform List and Matt Spaeth is expected to be sidelined for 8-10 more weeks with an ankle injury. Early last week, the Steelers signed free agents Nathan Overbay and Michael Palmer to add some possible depth to the tight end spot.
Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown are expected to shoulder the major portion of the receiving load with Mike Wallace departing via free agency. While both are speedy and have good hands, they are not exceptionally tall (both are 5 feet, 11 inches) as wide receivers go. That is one reason I was interested in how Plaxico Burress, who is 6-5, would fit into the Steelers’ plans – especially down close to the goal line – where a tall receiver comes in handy. That plan has been shelved for the foreseeable future after Burress suffered an injury to his right rotator cuff on Thursday during training camp. He became tangled up with a defense back and landed on his shoulder.
This may provide an opportunity for Derek Moye (6-5) and/or sixth round draft choice Justin Brown (6-3) to fill a role as a red zone receiver. They were teammates at Penn State before Brown transferred to Oklahoma prior to the 2012 season. Moye, who is from Rochester, Pa., was in camp with the Miami Dolphins and the New Orleans Saints in 2012 before making the Steelers practice squad late last season. Brown had four catches for 22 yards and Moye hadt wo catches for 22 yards.
It would be easy to get caught up in the problems that right outside linebacker Jason Worilds had Saturday night. The fourth-year pro was first flagged for roughing the passer, and then later received an unnecessary roughness penalty. When Worilds came to the sideline, head coach Mike Tomlin, who was livid, gave Worilds a dressing down. After that was over, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau had a much calmer discussion with Worilds. Linebackers need to be aggressive. I’m sure Worilds will be more under control as the preseason continues.
The special teams had their problems. First, they had a punt blocked which led to a Giants’ field goal. Later, they tried to return a punt from their own 2-yard line. Rookie quarterback Landry Jones entered the game at this juncture and immediately fumbled a snap which resulted in a safety.
They also had a fumbled punt return. These are things which generally happen in the first and second preseason game, as new personnel is evaluated.
A new addition on gamedays this season is the Pittsburgh Steeline Drum Line. The drummers should add to the home-field atmosphere.
Former Steelers running back Willie Parker is back in camp this summer. No, he’s not in pads. Parker, who sparked the Steelers with a 75-yard scoring run in their Super Bowl XL win over the Seattle Seahawks, is in camp as an NFL coaching intern. Parker left the Steelers in the spring of 2010 to sign with the Washington Redskins, but was one of their final cuts.
The new NFL policy on types of bags that may be brought into the stadium may have contributed to the lines at the gates. How much of a backlog this will cause at regular season games remains to be seen. The preseason game allows gameday workers and the fans to get into “regular season form” also.
The Steelers return to preseason action on Monday, August 19, when they visit the Washington Redskins.