Stock Up, Stock Down for Every Pittsburgh Steelers Position Unit This Preseason
A lot has happened during the Pittsburgh Steelers' 2012 offseason.
The Steelers hired an offensive coordinator and drafted two offensive linemen in the first two rounds.
Wide receiver Mike Wallace has yet to work with his teammates. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has turned 30, and linebacker James Harrison might not be healthy enough to start the season.
The 2012 season can't get here soon enough for Steelers fans who want to bury the memory of their team's demise on a January afternoon in Denver.
With all the questions the Steelers face, it remains to be seen whether watching them this season will be a sound time investment.
The best way to put together a prospectus for that investment is to analyze the Steelers' stock at each position.
This has been the Steelers' most stable position.
As sure as the leaves change colors in the fall, Ben Roethlisberger starts with Charlie Batch or Byron Leftwich—depending on which one's healthy—serving as veteran backups.
The difference this season is Jerrod Johnson is the young hopeful instead of Dennis Dixon.
Johnson has completed seven of 11 passes for 158 yards through the first two preseason games. He has one touchdown pass and no interceptions.
At 6'5", 251 pounds, the 24-year-old Johnson looks more like a prototypical quarterback than Dixon.
Roethlisberger turned 30 during the offseason. Leftwich is 32 and Batch 37. The Steelers could use an infusion of youth at the position. Roethlisberger likely won't retire anytime soon, but he's at least the halfway point of his career.
The Steelers need to have an eye on the future at the position, and Johnson seems to have a brighter future than Dixon.
If the Steelers want to keep Johnson, however, they're going to have to figure out what to do with four quarterbacks. They could put Johnson on the practice squad. According to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, however, the Steelers don't usually put quarterbacks on the practice squad.
If Johnson continues to impress and Batch and Leftwich remain capable backups, the Steelers will be faced with a pleasant problem.
Isaac Redman is expected to be healthy enough to start the season opener in Denver as planned.
According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Redman had an MRI last week that revealed a hip injury, but he was back at practice Tuesday.
The removal of Rashard Mendenhall from the physically-unable-to-perform list, as reported by ESPN, is good news for the Steelers even if Mendenhall misses the first few games of the season.
There's really no hurry for Mendenhall to get back, at least not for the Steelers. Mendenhall, however, might feel some urgency to suit up when Redman starts showing that he's better than him.
Third-year man Jonathan Dwyer took advantage of his starting opportunity in the Steelers' preseason game against the Colts, running for 43 yards on eight carries.
Chris Rainey took a step back against the Colts, even though he showed some guts coming back to play after getting hurt. He fumbled on his first carry and ran for just 20 yards on six attempts.
The Steelers still have high hopes for Rainey, which doesn't bode well for Baron Batch, who was decent as a blocker against the Colts but has been a disappointment running the ball. After missing his rookie season with an injury, he's run the ball 27 times for 60 yards.
Also blocking well was fullback Will Johnson, especially on Dwyer's gains on the first possession.
Burly Jason Ford (5'10", 251 pounds) ran for 42 yards on eight carries, but unlike Dwyer, none of those yards came against the Colts' first-team defense.
Assuming Mike Wallace ends his holdout during the weekend of the Steelers' preseason game in Buffalo, as has been reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Steelers' stock at this position will get an immediate boost.
For all the fuss surrounding Wallace's whereabouts this summer, it's not like he was the Steelers' MVP in 2011.
That was Antonio Brown, and Brown could have been a candidate for MVP of the Steelers' 26-24 preseason win over the Colts.
Brown caught two passes for 75 yards, including a screen pass that he turned into a 57-yard touchdown. He had the third-most catches in the NFL on third down last season, according to ESPN.com. So it's not surprising that both of Brown's catches against the Colts came on third down.
Also catching all his passes on third down was David Gilreath, who had four receptions for 78 yards.
The Steelers had been waiting for someone to earn the No. 5 receiver spot behind Wallace, Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery.
Gilreath spent time on the Colts', Rams' and Bills' practice squads last season before signing with the Steelers in the offseason. He has moved ahead of Toney Clemons and Marquis Maze in the pecking order with two preseason games to go.
Heath Miller hasn't caught any passes during the preseason, but he's done plenty of blocking.
Leonard Pope helped Miller block the Colts' Dwight Freeney on an 18-yard pass to Antonio Brown during the first quarter of the Steelers' preseason win over the Colts.
Three plays after that third-and-11 completion, Miller and Pope teamed up again for the initial block on Ben Roethlisberger's 57-yard touchdown pass to Brown.
Pope caught two passes for nine yards in the game. Seventh-round draft pick David Paulson caught two passes for 11 yards against the Colts.
Weslye Saunders, who is suspended for the first four games of the regular season, and journeyman pickup Justin Peelle also caught one pass each.
Second-round draft pick Mike Adams isn't ready to start at left tackle.
However, it's hard to get excited about Max Starks protecting Ben Roethlisberger's blind side to start the season.
Yes, Roethlisberger's limbs might not be attached if Starks hadn't come to the rescue in Week 5 last season. But since then, he's had ACL surgery and he's a year older.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller ranked the 30-year-old Starks as the NFL's 29th-best left tackle in his B/R 1,000 series, basically saying he's slow and not especially strong for a 6'8", 345-pounder.
Marcus Gilbert started at left tackle in the Steelers' preseason game against the Colts and showed he's better as a right tackle.
Seventh-round draft pick Kelvin Beachum likely won't survive the first cutdown day on Aug. 28, so versatile veteran Trai Essex will continue to fill out the depth chart.
Rookie first-round draft pick David DeCastro took another step forward in the Steelers' preseason win over the Colts.
DeCastro was right there with Antonio Brown, still looking for people to block, on Brown's 57-yard touchdown catch.
DeCastro, left guard Willie Colon and the entire offensive line did a solid job run-blocking early in the game.
If DeCastro and Colon continue to play like they did against the Colts, Ramon Foster will remain a backup on the depth chart.
Versatile Trai Essex also can provide depth.
Nothing has really changed here.
Maurkice Pouncey will try to become a Pro Bowler for the third time in his three seasons.
More important is Pouncey's quest to remain healthy and not miss any games for the first time in his three seasons.
Pouncey's health is crucial because there's a significant drop-off from him to Doug Legursky.
During the winter, when the wounds of the Steelers' early playoff exit were still fresh, the thought of Steve McLendon as the opening-day starter at nose tackle would have brought little consolation.
Now, during the dog days of summer, McLendon has earned the right to introduce himself and give his school (Troy) a shout-out on NBC's Sunday Night Football when the Steelers' defense takes the field in Denver.
The third-year undrafted free agent has five tackles and one sack during the preseason and might be doing more than keeping the seat warm for Casey Hampton, who according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review came off the physically-unable-to-perform list last week.
Hampton will turn 35 before opening day. If McLendon continues to play the way he has during the preseason, it will be hard for Hampton to get his job back.
Meanwhile, rookie fourth-round draft pick Alameda Ta'amu hasn't done much during the preseason. It's way too early to give up on him, though.
Brett Keisel pressured quarterback Andrew Luck on Ike Taylor's pick-six against the Colts. Keisel appears to be in mid-season form but will turn 34 on Sept. 19. His fight with Father Time needs to be monitored.
Ziggy Hood has a firm grip on the other starting job. He's in better shape after an exhaustive offseason training program, according to Steel City Insider. He'll need to prove he's more than just a workout warrior.
Cameron Heyward didn't particularly stand out playing against second-teamers in the preseason game against the Colts.
The Colts' 59 rushing yards on 13 carries in the first half—more than four yards a carry—were a little disturbing. The Steelers' defensive starters played into the second quarter, so the defensive line shares some of the blame.
It was nice to see LaMarr Woodley sack Andrew Luck in the Steelers' preseason win over the Colts.
The Steelers essentially lost Woodley for the season in 2011 after he was injured in Week 8 against the Patriots. He was ineffective when he came back, and that was a major factor in the Steelers' demise.
Woodley might not have James Harrison to help him with the pass rush when the Steelers start the season. Harrison had arthroscopic knee surgery last week, according to ESPN.com, and might not be recovered in time for Week 1.
Second-year linebacker Chris Carter has been starting in place of Harrison. Although Carter looked good at the start of training camp, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he wasn't much of a factor against the Colts.
Adrian Robinson, an undrafted rookie from Temple, is a dark-horse candidate to make this roster. He was in the face of Colts' second-string quarterback Drew Stanton all night and got his hands on a pass.
Meanwhile, Jason Worilds is becoming a forgotten man with his wrist injury.
The outside linebacking corps also deserves its share of the blame for the Steelers' mediocre job stopping the run in the first half against the Colts.
There's nothing to worry about with Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons on the inside.
Depth might be an issue, however, with Stevenson Sylvester out three to four weeks with a torn MCL, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Brandon Johnson and Marshall McFadden shared the lead among Steelers linebackers with three tackles each in their preseason win over the Colts. Mortty Ivy blocked a punt.
Rookie third-round draft pick Sean Spence seemed to be in the wrong place a couple of times in pass coverage, but he's learning.
The inside linebackers' role in the Steelers' porous run defense hurts their stock, although there's plenty of time to work on that before the Steelers go to Denver.
Ryan Clark can be frustrating. At times it seems he hurts the Steelers with 15-yard penalties just as much as he helps them.
However, his absence in the Steelers' playoff loss in Denver and his performance in the preseason highlight Clark's importance to this team.
Clark, who led the Steelers in tackles last season, led the team with six tackles in the preseason win over the Colts.
Troy Polamalu's only preseason objective is to stay healthy, and so far he's done that.
Depth might be an issue, especially with Clark turning 33 in October and Polamalu having turned 31 in April.
Ryan Mundy is no Ryan Clark, although he figures to again spell Clark in the season opener at Denver.
Robert Golden, an undrafted free agent, has had a decent camp, according to Steel City Insider. He broke up a pass against the Colts and has a chance to make the team.
If Ike Taylor really has learned to catch, the Steelers will immediately be stronger at cornerback.
Taylor, who struggles to make interceptions, picked off Andrew Luck and returned it 49 yards for a touchdown in the Steelers' preseason win over the Colts.
Cortez Allen had an interception of his own and gained ground on Keenan Lewis in the race to start opposite Taylor. Allen's pick came on a tipped ball that should have been caught by T.Y. Hilton. He also got away with pass interference on another play. Still, Allen had a better game than Lewis.
Curtis Brown has fallen off the pace in what started as a three-horse race to start at cornerback. Like last season, his biggest contribution probably will come on special teams.
Josh Victorian, a long shot to make the team, had an interception in the fourth quarter against the Colts.
The Steelers haven't missed a field goal during the preseason. Shaun Suisham has made both his attempts and undrafted rookie Daniel Hrapmann has made the other five.
As suspect as he's been, Suisham figures to have the inside track on the job, according to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Let's hope Hrapmann makes Suisham earn it.
Drew Butler, an undrafted rookie, has done all the punting during the preseason while Jeremy Kapinos is sidelined with back problems.
Butler has averaged 47.5 yards on 11 punts. Kapinos averaged 45 yards on 34 punts in eight games in 2011.
However, Kapinos pinned teams inside the 20-yard line 10 times last season. Butler has yet to do that during the preseason. Kapinos also induced fair catches on eight of his 34 punts. Only one of Butler's 11 punts has resulted in a fair catch.
It's nice that Antonio Brown has graduated from his return duties.
The Steelers' punt return game has suffered because of it, however.
Marquis Maze has returned four punts this preseason for an average of two yards. Chris Rainey has returned three punts at a 6.7-yard clip.
The kickoff returns have been better. Rainey has two returns for a total of 43 yards. Maze has one for 28 and David Gilreath one for 22.
Kickoff return stats aren't as meaningful these days, however, with so many kickoffs going through the end zone.
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