Football is back! Well, I suppose it isn't truly back for another month, but the preseason kicked off with the Hall of Fame Game on Sunday and will continue on Thursday with the battle of Pennsylvania between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles.
The first preseason game is generally just a glorified scrimmage for the starters as they get in and out quickly, but it could be of great importance to several players attempting to make a roster. The game isn't likely to captivate fans, but there will surely be some players on the field late in the game who make a big impact at some point during the season.
It may take some time before fans get into full football mode, but there is no doubt that the start of the regular season is drawing near. Here is everything you need to know for the opening preseason game for both the Steelers and Eagles on Thursday.
Where: Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Penn.
When: Thursday, Aug. 9 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Watch: KDKA-TV (Pittsburgh) and WPVI-TV (Philadelphia); Sirius XM - Internet 824 (Pittsburgh) and Internet 823 (Philadelphia)
Live Stream: Preseason Live
Listen: WDVE 102.5 FM (Pittsburgh) and WIP 94.1 FM (Philadelphia)
Betting Line: Pittsburgh (-2) via ESPN.com
What's At Stake?
Obviously, the outcome of Thursday's game won't mean anything for either team, but it will mark the first opportunity for rookies and other young players to stand out from the crowd. The Steelers and Eagles are both veteran teams that aren't perceived to have a ton of depth, so there should be plenty of players on either side fighting tooth and nail for a roster spot.
Also, the starting units will have an opportunity to get their feet wet by playing a series. That is especially vital for the Steelers as they have a lot of adjustments to make with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger nursing a slight rotator cuff tear, running back Rashard Mendenhall likely missing a good chunk of the season and wide receiver Mike Wallace holding out.
The Eagles are coming off a disappointing season and will want to get things started off right, even if it is the preseason. A couple key additions were made to a defensive unit that struggled mightily at times, so getting them involved will be of great importance for Philly.
Steelers Injury Report (via CBSSports.com)
Questionable: TE Heath Miller (ankle)
Probable: QB Ben Roethlisberger (ankle)
Eagles Injury Report (via CBSSports.com)
Out: WR Ronald Johnson (ankle), WR Riley Cooper (shoulder), DL Maurice Fountain (knee)
Doubtful: DL Jason Babin (calf)
Questionable: DL Trent Cole (shoulder), TE Brent Celek (knee), DL Mike Patterson (head)
What They're Saying
The biggest topic of conversation at Steelers camp thus far has been the absence of star wide receiver Mike Wallace, who has yet to work out a contract with the team. Wallace is very much acclimated with the offense and likely wouldn't take much time to get ready for the season, but the longer the holdout goes on, the worse it gets for the team.
Wallace's absence has left the Steelers looking for alternate options in the passing game and offensive coordinator Todd Haley is hoping that someone will emerge from the pack, according to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
"There's some ability," Haley said. "But, at that position, there is some pressure to try to get one of those guys kind of come to the surface. So we'll push them hard, and you'll see that position getting coached pretty vigilantly trying to get that to happen."
Although the Eagles have to prepare for Thursday's preseason opener against the Steelers, there are other things on the minds of the players and head coach Andy Reid especially. His 29-year-old-son, Garrett, was found dead in a Lehigh University dormitory room, which is where the team's training camp takes place.
There hasn't been any indication with regards to Reid's status for the game, but the team understands that he has an obligation to his family as well, according to Zach Berman of Philly.com.
"He feels this in two different places because he knows he has to be with his family," safety Kurt Coleman said. "But he also wants to be with his football family because he loves our team, and he loves being around us all the time."
Steelers Key Addition: G David DeCastro
The Steelers did more subtracting than adding this offseason, but there is no doubt that the most impactful newcomer will be first-round guard David DeCastro out of Stanford. DeCastro was one of Andrew Luck's main protectors in college and the Steelers are hopeful that he will be equally as effective in front of Roethlisberger.
Even though Pittsburgh has had great success over the past several seasons, pass protection has long been a problem. Roethlisberger is one of the most sacked quarterbacks in the league since his debut, but it appears that there is a concerted effort being made to keep him upright more often during the upcoming season.
DeCastro is also a dominant run blocker, so he will be a key player as a rookie for the Steelers. I would expect him to receive plenty of playing time on Thursday and he will get a good test against a strong Eagles defensive front.
Eagles Key Addition: LB DeMeco Ryans
The Eagles have pretty much everything you could possibly ask for on offense, but they proved last season that football is about a lot more than just scoring points. Philadelphia's defense made great strides late last year and that led to a fantastic finish, but the Eagles' coaching staff will aim to play well defensively all season long in 2012.
One guy who will be expected to shoulder much of the defensive load is linebacker DeMeco Ryans. The Eagles acquired him in a trade with the Houston Texans and are hoping that he can be an anchor in the middle. Philly easily had one of the worst linebacker corps in football last season, but if Ryans plays to the best of his ability, that won't be the case any longer.
Since Ryans is a veteran, he probably won't see a great deal of playing time in the opening preseason game, but as long as he gets acclimated with the defense in a game situation and feels comfortable, then he can consider it a success.
Key Matchup: Isaac Redman vs. John Clay
With running back Rashard Mendenhall sidelined for an undetermined amount of time due to a torn ACL, the Steelers will have to settle on a back to replace him in the meantime. Isaac Redman is clearly the leader in the clubhouse as he rushed for over 400 yards in Mendenhall's absence last season, but big John Clay was impressive in limited time as well, so he could be in the mix.
The most likely scenario is that Redman will be more of a do-everything back while Clay is the short-yardage guy, but each player will clearly want to receive the lion's share of the work. With that in mind, look for both of them to run with purpose against the Eagles.
Redman knows that his spot is far from guaranteed, and Clay has to know that he is the underdog in this particular battle. I highly doubt that head coach Mike Tomlin has made a final decision yet, so this game could go a long way in determining who the main man is come the first game.
Steelers 24, Eagles 14