Pittsburgh Steelers: Which 7 Players Must Step Up Against Falcons?

Chris Gazze@ChrisG_PITCorrespondent IAugust 26, 2011

Pittsburgh Steelers: Which 7 Players Must Step Up Against Falcons?

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    The most important game of the preseason is up next when the Pittsburgh Steelers play the Atlanta Falcons at Heinz Field Saturday night.

    For many players, it will be their last chance to prove themselves to the coaching staff and in a push to make the roster.

    Other players are looking to improve their position on the depth chart, while for others, we are just looking to see something.

    The backups will not get much time, as the starters will play at least the first half and possibly even into the third quarter.

    Let’s take a look at who needs to come up big against the Falcons.

Weslye Saunders

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    Wesyle Saunders was one of the Steelers undrafted free agents who many felt could sneak onto the roster.

    The big tight end has loads of potential, but missed his last season of football at South Carolina due to a suspension.

    Saunders has flashed some potential in camp but was virtually invisible in the preseason prior to making a reception against Philadelphia last week.

    With Heath Miller and David Johnson the clear top two options at tight end, Saunders has a chance to make the team but will need a big showing Saturday.

    He is a good receiver and will have to make an impact in the passing game as well as show that he is a capable blocker.

    If he does not show these skills, John Gilmore will have the inside track at a roster spot.

Marcus Gilbert

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    After an injury early in training camp, Marcus Gilbert fell behind.

    The second round draft choice wasn’t expected to win a starting job, but he had high expectations as a potential guard or tackle.

    Gilbert had been practicing with the second team offensive line at left tackle and will get the opportunity to start for the injured Jonathan Scott on Saturday.

    Against Philadelphia, Gilbert had a fair outing before leaving with an injury but still has a lot of work to do, especially when he is supposed to be protecting Ben Roethlisberger.

    It will be a tough test for Gilbert according to Mike Tomlin.

    “Marcus Gilbert will be given an opportunity against a top-quality player in John Abraham and others,” said Tomlin.

    Tomlin has also been impressed with Gilbert’s progress.

    “He’s been on the up-and-coming since a rocky beginning, like a lot of guys have rock beginnings,” said Tomlin. “He has marched back relatively well, and we are pleased with what we are seeing from him. But it must continue.”

    Clearly, he has the eye of the coaching staff; now it is time for Gilbert to seize the moment and show that he can be the left tackle of the future.

Tony Hills

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    Tony Hills did not have much of an opportunity to show what he was capable of at right guard with the starters last week due to injuries to Scott and Gilbert.

    This week, he will have another chance to stay atop the battle at right guard, but not quite win the job yet, according to Tomlin.

    “No, (Hills) just didn’t get an opportunity to show what he’s capable of last game at that position because of what happened at left tackle and him having to give us some service in that area,” said Tomlin. “We’re going to stay with the commitment of giving him the opportunity to show what he can do at right guard. He’s earned that, and we are anxious to see what he is capable of doing. That battle by no means is over.”

    Hills is one of the Steelers most athletic offensive linemen and would give them a player with the ability to pull from the right side.

    He will get to match up against a quality defense in his effort to win the job at right guard.

Keenan Lewis

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    Keenan Lewis had his best game in a Steelers uniform last week against the Eagles.

    He now must carry that momentum into Saturday’s game against an up-and-coming quarterback in Matt Ryan and the high-powered Falcon’s offense.

    Lewis has been inconsistent over the first two years of his career and had an average start to the preseason.

    But after last week’s game, Lewis is on the rise and there are some signs that he could finally be starting to turn the corner.

    The Falcons are an outstanding opponent for Lewis to once again showcase what he is capable of.

    If he can help shut down two quality aerial attacks in a row, it will go a long way in earning him a roster spot and possibly the nickel or even a starting role.

Curtis Brown

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    Last week, Curtis Brown began to show some of his athletic abilities, and it looks like he is finally catching up after an injury plagued start to camp.

    Brown has the upside to start, and ideally this season, he can develop into a nickel role.

    Like Lewis, Brown has the chance to impress the coaching staff against a good passing team.

    The question is how much time the coaches give him.

    With the starters playing at least a half, at what point will he come onto the field?

Jason Worilds

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    It has been two weeks, and Jason Worilds has not been much of a disruptive force from the outside.

    In fact, Chris Carter has shown a little more up to this point, though against worse competition.

    Regardless, Worilds is the replacement for James Harrison at right outside linebacker, and he needs to show that he can handle this role.

    Last season, Worilds showed some skills as a pass rusher and is using this year to develop as a complete linebacker.

    But that doesn’t mean that he can’t still get to the quarterback. It would be great to see him generate some pressure against Atlanta.

Ziggy Hood

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    Has Ziggy Hood suited up to play?

    It is like déjà vu all over again.

    Last year, Hood had a great training camp and was nearly invisible in the preseason. Once again, he has shown little so far.

    Hood will be a major part of the defense once again and he is expected to continue to improve.

    Now there is little doubt that he will do so but it would still be nice to see some disruption from Hood.

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