Halfway through the preseason, it seems like a good time to reflect on what we've seen so far. I live in Boston now, but my hometown is Latrobe Pennsylvania. Back home, family and friends are saying that two people are rocking training camp--Ziggy Hood and Maurkice Pouncey. So tonight, as I watched the Steelers beat up the Giants, I watched these two players a lot. Of the two, Pouncey impressed me more. During the third quarter, the Steelers took advantage of Pouncey's superior skill, running straight up the middle consistently as Pouncey opened hole after hole. The final Steeler touchdown was an excellent illustration as Pouncey pushed his man back and then peeled off on the linebacker. He seems like the real deal, but it would be very nice to see what he could do against an opponent's number one defense. Hood, on the other hand, was most noticeable during a roughing the passer penalty. I'm still a fan, and I think he will upgrade and revitalize the line in the future, but I'm not sure he's ready to take over for Keisel, who still looks as solid as ever. Here's my admittedly amateur assessment of the different positions thus far.
Quarterback: Tonight, it was obvious why Ben is a star and Leftwich has been a mediocre player in this league. Yes, the pass to Wallace was very good, and Ben didn't do anything spectacular, but there is a completely different vibe when Ben is behind center. On the first scoring drive, the Steelers faced second and 27. Ben completed two passes to give the Steelers a first and goal at the nine. But as we all know, Ben will not be with us in September. At first, I agreed with Coach Tomlin that Leftwich gives us the best chance to win, but really, how much must Dennis Dixon do before he gets his shot? He has looked poised, athletic and intelligent in both games, making good decisions and throwing the ball accurately. The broken play, where he calmly ran around right end, directed blockers, and gained over twenty yards is an excellent illustration of what he brings to the game. I'd rather take my chances with him than rely on Leftwich.
Running Back: Is anyone else as worried as I am about this position? Mendenhall has not looked good in either game, and I think I'm going to create a drinking game where you have to drink every time he spins in circles. Redman looks so much better, but Dwyer has been a major disappointment. I thought he was a sixth round steal, but he came to camp out of shape and got hurt in his first game. I doubt he'll even make the team.
Wide Receiver: I'm actually really excited about our young wideouts. Brown and Sanders both have shown good potential, and with Hines Ward to mentor them, they will get an excellent understanding of what it means to be an all around player in this league. As for Wallace, I was a huge fan last year, and I continue to be impressed with him. He's so much further along than Holmes was after one year. I saw an interview with Mike Wallace, where he said that he can't wait to play preseason games because he wants to block someone and knock him on his butt. Again, the Hines Ward influence is obvious.
Offensive Line: I was thrilled when the Steelers picked up Flozell Adams, but that enthusiasm was short lived. He's looked old and slow, and I don't think he is going to help us much. I know the Steelers never rush to play rookies (remember Troy sitting his whole rookie year?) but Pouncey must play now. He's a different level athlete than we have anywhere on the line, and he has shown that he gets the nuances of the position. In twenty years, we will be talking about Mansfield, Webster, Dawson, and Pouncey in the same breath.
Defensive Line: We're solid here as always. Aaron Smith coming back will help tremendously, and Hood's development will help the rotation.
Linebackers: Why oh why didn't we nail down Woodley for the long term? I love Harrison, but he's so much older than Woodley, who has 5-7 years of excellent production left. If we lose him, I know we'll find a good replacement (the Steelers always do), but this guy is consistently great and plays his best in big games. Tonight, I watched our newest linebacker, Jason Worilds, and frankly, he looked lost out there. I know Legend LeBeau's defense is hard to pick up, but Worilds just never seemed to be in the right place.
Secondary: Ok, I know this is blasphemy, and I'm already cringing at the posts I'm going to get, but Troy doesn't look good. He's missing tackles, and he looks tentative. Now, don't get me wrong, I think he's one of the best players in the league, but he didn't look like it tonight. Is it a mental thing after the injuries? Is he just still trying to get up to game speed? I don't know, but tonight, it looked like Patrocles was wearing Achilles' Armor and pretending to be the hero. Sorry for the geeky Homeric reference, but he just didn't look right. At corner, I'm still not sure what we've got, especially since Ike did a Sugar Ray imitation three plays into the game. Did anyone else notice that Gay did not take Ike's spot after he was ejected? It seems like the coaches have totally lost confidence in Clueless William. Finally, I really want to like Joe Burnett and want him to contribute, but so far I don't see it.
Special Teams: Sepulveda looks stronger this year after another year away from the injury, and I predict a pro bowl season from him. Cousin Jeff (sorry, that's what we call him here because my wife's last name is Reed) will be solid as ever, as long as he stays out of the bars, and I think overall the special teams will be better this year. The battle to return kicks is interesting. Logan is still electrifying, but Brown looked good too and can also contribute as a fifth wide receiver.
Conclusion: This is still a very dangerous football team. Cincinnati's collection of criminals is not going to do as well as expected this year. The Ravens have upgraded their offense, but the defense isn't what it once was. No one is talking positively about our Steelers, but then again, no one was talking about them the year they went 15-1 and went to the AFC championship. I know it's just preseason, but the Giants handled the Jets on Monday, and I thought the Steelers dominated the Giants tonight. Everyone is saying the Jets are a Super Bowl contender. Well, that's fine. Let everyone talk about the Jets, Ravens, and Colts in August. But come December, they'll be talking about the Steelers... as usual. Thanks for reading all of my rambling, and let's get ready for a great season.