Things Homer will be watching for against Carolina

Homer narrowly averted a couple of bad days, Hurricane Irene shut down the bakery used by the nearby Kwik-E-Mart, so they don't have any Sprink-a-licious Donuts at all. D'oh! Luckily, there's a special on pizza at a dollar a slice, and that seems to go well with the Mocha Iced Coffee at 8am, right after Santa's Little Helper goes for her morning walk. 

With that crisis averted, we can move on to the final pre-season game, and the things we'll be watching.

1) James Harrison. Okay, nobody was talking about it 48 hours ago and we brought it up and now it's the only thing anybody's talking about. Deebo had two back surgeries in March and now everyone agrees he isn't himself yet. Dale said we haven't seen the explosiveness. The P-G said there were times he looked like he was running in sand - or mud - and was sucking wind. Homer saw the replay on the Atlanta game last night, and saw the play with 3:38 to go in the first half where Matt Ryan outran Harrison on a play where - last year - Harrison would have torn his head off for a sack. And when the play was over, James was trying to catch his breath. Watching that play for the third time made Homer sick to his stomach.

Everybody knows Harrison is serious about conditioning and no one can question his heart. It's just that back surgery is a serious matter, and sometimes you have to rest in order to heal. When you rest, you lose conditioning. We're hoping that's all this is. Hopefully, it's a matter of another week or two before he rounds into shape. 

We all cheered when our man Baron Batch stood him up in the backs-on-backers drill, but some of us wondered how much of that was Deebo after the surgery. We've all worried that the D isn't stopping the run quite as well this year, but we know that the Steeler D is predicated on the OLB's being set up to make the plays. They're not being made. We've also seen how much pressure the coaching staff has put of Worilds to step up.

It's preseason, and James Harrison is a former DPOY. 

But, forgive me. I remember how something as innocuous as turf toe ended Jack Lambert's career. And how an elbow injury and some stupid medical decisions by Terry Bradshaw spelled the end for him. I'm grateful that Harrison is taking this seriously, and slowly and not doing anything stupid.

But - if he plays against Carolina - Homer will be watching Deebo very closely. And hoping he's regaining that explosiveness. Without it, he ain't Deebo.

2) The Quarterbacks. Here's the conundrum: the Steelers can't protect Ben, who is as strong as an oak tree. But if he goes down, his back-ups can be as fragile as fine china.

Roethlisberger won't play against Carolina. That's the good news. The bad news is that his two back-ups, who WILL play, have a long history of injury.

We love Homestead Charlie, but his injuries have included a finger broken while taking a snap from center. He's smart, he's a high quality guy who manages a game brilliantly, but on the back of his uniform above the number 16 - where it says BATCH, maybe they should change it to FRAGILE. Homer is hoping he hands the ball off a lot and runs away - or does a lot of three-step drops and gets rid of it. 

The other guy reminds me of the lead in the obscure 60's R&B group, Birdlegs and his Versatility Birds. (They recorded on the VJ label, by the way.) Birdlegs Dixon is a solid citizen who works hard and his numbers last year were impressive until he got hurt. Fans (and the FO) are giving him a hard time because he shot off his mouth about not wanting to sit on the bench the rest of his career. And the fact that he's almost certainly going to be somewhere else next year. Go easy on Dixon, folks. He's simply a quality guy who doesn't want to spend his career as a backup, and your season may depend on him at some point.

If it all hits the fan, Dennis Dixon has the character and the skill set to manage the Steelers offense. But, again, there's the fragility factor. And those legs. 

Homer's main concern here is that while Ben sits, nobody gets hurt. 

And what are Versatility Birds, anyway? Anything like Buffalo wings?  Mmmm.

3) The offensive line.  Homer will especially be watching Essex and Malecki at Center, while Pouncey rests. And he will be watching the Big Legursky at Guard. The Great Football Minds will all tell you that The Dude is too short to play guard, and Homer was thrilled when Coach Tomlin shot that down yesterday, saying he doesn't subscribe to "cookie cutter" requirements and noting that Legursky has built-in leverage. Of course, with a name like Legursky, he also has a built-in name for a kick-ass football player. He's a blue collar UDFA. We love him.

The line has been shuffled more than a deck of cards at Benny Binion's Horseshoe, and that might be why they haven't been able to come up with a sustained running game. Now's the time. If Legursky is the man who can work those pulls and traps, then maybe the chemistry will be there. He's absolutely earned it.

The other key is that Essex or Malecki had better step up at Center. If not, Legursky will also have to be backup for the most famous ankle in Pittsburgh. It that has to be, so be it. But it would be so much better if The Dude can concentrate on Guard.

4) Bryant McFadden.  Homer can't figure this one out at all. McFadden is superior against the run, very physical, smart, and decent against the pass when he's healthy. But groin and hamstring injuries have dogged him throughout his career, and when he can't react quickly, he's toast on short passes. And that was most of last year and all of this pre-season. 

Homer expects him to play against Carolina and will be watching him very closely. If he can't play against Carolina, how long can they keep him on the roster?  McFadden has been a winner in Pittsburgh over his career, but you can't make the club in the tub. 

Homer will be watching all 524 defensive backs trying to make the team. There's a lot of talent and even more potential back there. Crezdon Butler stepped up last week. Other guys will have their chance this week. And you know who else will be watching? Every other NFL GM and Coach, because those guys we let go will be snapped up in a New York minute. If you think our rookie DB's will make it to the PS, you haven't been paying attention. And the other teams have. 

5) Homer wants to take a moment to remember two Pittsburghers in the entertainment biz who passed away this past week. Tookie Dileo and Bob McCully.

Frank Dileo was from Larimer Avenue and went to Central Catholic - while Homer was from Morningside and went to Peabody. Tookie was one year older and we really didn't know each other - only in passing. But the first time Homer ever had pizza, it was in the Dileo family tavern in Homewood. The pizza was good, but the sausage was even better. And Homer also remembers the first time he had real Italian Lemon Ice, at Moio's Italian Bakery on Larimer Avenue, next to the Meadow Grill. That was Tookie's turf. Home to some tough guys, and also to the best people in the world. On L-A (as they called Larimer Avenue back then), nobody got hurt who didn't deserve to get hurt. 

Tookie went on to plug records (for Columbia, I think), going to radio stations and record stores, working out of the back of his car. And he worked his way up in the recording business, eventually becoming Michael Jackson's manager. But he never forgot where he came from, always remembered his old friends, and never put on any airs. He was a Pittsburgh guy, even in Hollywood. That's why people out there loved him so much.

Bob McCully was a writer and performer for the most successful morning radio show of all time. Cordic and Company on KDKA once had an 83 share. That meant the other twenty-some Pittsburgh stations fought over the remaining 17 percent. Bob wrote and performed some of the funniest sketches I ever heard. And he wrote and performed in musical theatre and was a brilliant advertising man for the Pittsburgh office of Ketchum. Everybody in town knew Bob and Bob Trow (Bob Dog) and Karl Hardman (from Night of the Living Dead). The Cordic guys were like rock stars.

Bob appeared (for free) on the first installment of my TV show when I was 24 years old. It was a UHF show seen by my immediate family and a few friends, but I was scared as hell and he put me at ease. He hooked me up with Don Brockett (yeah, Chef Brockett), who brought on a musical group that included a kid named Michael Douglas. Douglas was terrific and had a great sense of comedy and an even better sense of timing. Brockett mentioned that Michael had been working as a stagehand on MisterRogers and was looking to break into show business. I lost track of Michael for a while, but then heard there was a Michael Douglas in Hollywood. It wasn't him. AFTRA wouldn't let him use the name, because Kirk Douglas' son was already using it. He's couldn't use Mike Douglas either, because the TV talk host was using that. So Michael Douglas picked the name Keaton as his stage name. And, like Tookie Dileo, Michael Keaton has never forgotten where he came from, has always remembered his old friends, and doesn't put on any airs. He probably remembers me only because my show was his commercial TV debut. And he didn't make a dime, but did promote a show he was doing at Ben Gross' Supper Club out on Route 30.

We have folks from all over the world who are part of our blog community. And I've written this to try to show them how Pittsburgh is very much like a small town. We know one another. And if we don't know you personally, we probably know your family and your close friends. And we do care about one another.

We lost two members of that family this past week. Condolences to their friends and immediate families. May they rest in peace. 

Let's keep everyone healthy and we'll talk after the game.

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