There was a lot to be excited about after the first three preseason games for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ offense are high-flying, especially with the emergence of Antonio Brown at receiver.
Willie Colon is back at right tackle and looks better than ever while on the defensive line. Cameron Heyward is rapidly developing and should see significant playing time this year.
However, not all is clear as Pittsburgh approaches its final preseason game against the Carolina Panthers.
Here are some of the questions Mike Tomlin and the Steelers have entering the final preseason game.
James Harrison has been slowed by his back injury. Maurkice Pouncey has an ankle injury. Ike Taylor has a broken thumb, and Bryant McFadden, well, he’s still on the roster, right?
The Steelers are banged up, to say the least.
After losing Byron Leftwich to a broken arm last week, and it being the final preseason game, expect many of the starters to sit Thursday evening.
As for the players who are injured, the most important name is Harrison.
Harrison is still working to get back to full strength after offseason back surgeries. He needs to be healthy to get after the quarterback and ease some of the pressure off the weakened defensive backfield.
Speaking of the defensive backs, Taylor will be ready to go against Baltimore to open the season, but McFadden has been injured since early in camp, and McFadden not at 100 percent is not a player you want on the field.
There is time to get healthy, and this is the week the veterans will have that opportunity.
When it was reported that backup center Doug Legursky would start at right guard Thursday, it could mean he has won the right guard job.
It could also mean the coaches are giving him some work at the position.
Hopefully it is the latter.
Pittsburgh opens up the season against a massive Baltimore defensive front, and Legurksy cannot match up all too well against players of that size.
Ramon Foster holds up much better against large defensive linemen, while Tony Hills—who has started the last two games at guard—would give the Steelers an athletic component to the position.
It looks like this battle will go down to the wire.
The absences of Taylor and McFadden have opened the door for the younger cornerbacks to step up.
Starting alongside of William Gay, Keenan Lewis has had his best preseason and could have the inside track to start in place of McFadden if he is not ready for the regular season.
Lewis has not been stellar, but he has not been bad either. He is at least showing growth, something he hadn’t the previous two years.
A lot of people jumped on the Crezdon Butler bandwagon after his 95-yard interception return against the Atlanta Falcons. Butler could eventually develop into a good player, but I have not seen enough yet.
Meanwhile, rookie Curtis Brown was hampered by injuries early in camp and is still behind. He looks the part of future starter, but needs more experience.
Thursday will be an excellent opportunity for Lewis, Butler and Brown to leave a lasting impression on the coaching staff.
Bruce Arians has called a good—no, a great preseason—besides all of the wide receiver screens, of course.
There have been quick passes, throws to the running backs and going back to plays that were successful.
You name it, we’ve seen it.
No wonder the Steelers’ offense looks to be on cruise control at times.
But will Arians go back to his normal ways once the regular season begins?
I sure hope not, this offense is fun to watch right now.
Though the play-calling has been solid, the ground game has not.
That is tied directly with the offensive line.
Only Pouncey and Colon rate as above-average linemen, and with a banged-up Jonathan Scott at left tackle, Chris Kemoeatu coming off a knee injury and the right guard situation, the line will—once again—be a question mark all season.
Roethlisberger would love the idea of throwing the ball on every snap, but the Steelers will need Rashard Mendenhall to carry some of the load.
Mendenhall is on the verge of establishing himself as one of the top backs in the league, but may have little room to run if the line takes time to work as a cohesive unit.
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