The Pittsburgh Steelers had their first preseason game of 2012 on Thursday, losing to the Philadelphia Eagles, 24-23. With the Steelers in a transition period of sorts, there was much to take notice of through all four quarters of the game.
Most of the important takeaways came early on in the game, however. Here are the three biggest things we learned in the Steelers' first preseason game, one from which few conclusions can be drawn but still overall provides clues into their 2012 campaign.
A Rough Go for Mike Adams
While rookie guard David DeCastro performed well in his first in-game situation as a Steelers starter (Do you remember seeing him? No? That's the sign he did his job well.), the same cannot be said for second-round pick Mike Adams.
Adams started at left tackle in the game, and though he was decent when it came to run blocking, in pass protection he was outmatched. Constantly plowed over by the Eagles defensive front, he also gave up a staggering 2.5 sacks in just nine first-quarter plays.
Indeed, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was frequently scrambling his way out of pressure, eerily reminding us of his 2011 season behind a patched-together group of often-underwhelming linemen.
Adams' auspicious outing ended when he suffered a knee injury, one believed not to be terribly serious. He was replaced by Trai Essex, who was outmatched in his own right.
It looks like the battle has yet to be won at left tackle; however, with Adams and potential starter Max Starks both presently sidelined by their knee problems, it will take some time before the position has stabilized.
A First Look at the Todd Haley Offense
There wasn't a lot of deep passing going on with the first-team offense, as it was obvious the unit was working to install some of the basic fundamentals of Todd Haley's new playbook.
Clearly, the first thing that stood out was the speed. Quick passing and no-huddle were repeatedly on display, with Roethlisberger being tasked with throwing more to running backs and tight ends in short and intermediate routes in order to get him more comfortable with something he hadn't been tasked to do with Bruce Arians calling the plays.
These quick throws were extremely successful when hybrid fullback/tight end/H-back David Johnson was the target. He was thrown to twice, catching both and netting 13 yards. However, Johnson suffered a significant knee injury—likely a torn ACL—which will cost him his season and force the Steelers to somewhat return to the drawing board.
Redman was also thrown to as well, but it wasn't as successful, with two receptions for four yards. Though the first-team offense was on the field for a short amount of time, you could tell the game plan was to see how much progress had been made in speeding up the game.
There was also a lot of running on Thursday, though again it was more about experimentation than an indication that the Steelers will be passing significantly less in 2012. The Steelers offense, through four quarters, passed the ball a total of 19 times and rushed 39 times.
That doesn't mean all of the Steelers running backs were successful. Rookie Chris Rainey looked sharp, while Baron Batch looked extremely rough. There's still quite a fight brewing for depth-chart positioning behind Redman; Jonathan Dwyer seems to have the best grasp on the job, but he's now dealing with a shoulder injury (via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), about the severity of which we'll find out more soon.
Speaking of Chris Rainey...
There was a lot of talk that the Pittsburgh Steelers got the steal of the draft when they scored super-fast hybrid receiver/running back Chris Rainey in the fifth round.
Though he's small and thus not a traditional blocking back, his speed and elusiveness, versatility, and good hands clearly struck a chord with the Steelers and Haley in particular, considering Rainey's similarities to the Haley-drafted Dexter McCluster of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Rainey, however, looked better than McCluster by a great deal in his preseason debut. He was ducking under defenders as promised, making them miss tackles because of his speed. Though he netted just one rushing yard on four attempts, it doesn't illustrate the full picture.
Rainey also had two receptions for 65 yards and a score, including one that went for 57 yards. He was banged up early but came back into the game in the second half, which speaks volumes about his toughness in a game in which he could have easily stayed on the sidelines.
Expect more passes and more carries for Rainey as the preseason progresses. He surely impressed in the limited time we saw him on Thursday.