Tomorrow is the first game action the for the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers. I know many of us have followed the tweets and reports out of training camp almost religiously but haven't been able to confirm these with our own eyes. Tomorrow we will get that chance and there at least ten players I believe you should keep and eye on specifically. Most of these players are either rookies or current back ups but what else would you expect in the first preseason game? After the jump is the list of players you should watch ranked from ten to one.
#10- Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith, FS #42-
The listed 6'2" 210lbs Cromartie-Smith was originally signed as an UDFA in 2010. Eventually he spent all of 2010 on the PS after showing some progress. In 2011 he showed a little growth despite the lockout but was again signed to the practice squad. He was however signed to the active roster for four games in 2011.For the first week of practice Da'Mon was on the PUP. He finally returned to practice and is now in a competition to unseat Will Allen for the back up FS position. He is related to Antonio Cromartie and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie both are fairly good DBs in the NFL. There are high hopes for DCS if only to help the Steelers salary cap wise by forcing the release of Will Allen saving close to S1.2 million from the cap.
#9- Corbin Bryant, DE #95-
One of the most exciting battles in the 2012 training camp has been four the fourth and likely last DE spot between Al Woods and Corbin Byrant. Each has looked very good in camp according to the murmurs out of training camp. They both have been reported to won their fair share of one on ones and each has had a couple notable plays in team drills. Byrant however is the one to watch in this battle. Why? Well he has a slight edge in the mental part of the defense. Bryant was in camp as an UDFA last year made the practice squad and was then signed in October once Aaron Smith was place on injured reserve he was then released the following week and signed back to the practice squad. However there is another reason why you should watch Bryant over Woods in this battle. Corbin Bryant has practice squad eligibility left. Meaning he will have to be noticeably better then Al Woods who does not have that luxury or the team will likely sign Bryant to the practice squad again after keeping Woods. Either way it should be a good battle between the two over the next three weeks.
#8- Jerod Johnson, QB #8-
Jerrod Johnson is 6'5" 251lbs and looks every bit of it. He had a big arm coming out of Texas A&M but had arm surgery that required rehab and was signed as a UDFA with the Eagles last year. He was cut during training camp. He then signed with my home state AFL team the Arizona Rattlers but couldn't beat out their QB who was the AFL MVP in 2011. Johnson biggest concern coming out of Texas A&M was accuracy and health and though he can still improve has look good in camp so far. he appear to be 100% back in arm strength zipping ball around in camp. He is fighting long time back Charlie Batch for the 3rd QB spot. If he shows on tape he could easily win it as the team looks to get a young developmental back up for Ben.
#7- Will Johnson, FB #46-
Without a doubt the best battle in camp is for the fullback position. The two players partaking in this battle, David Johnson a converted TE and Will Johnson who signed as an UDFA with the Steelers prior to the draft.Will Johnson has an interesting back story. He was a former WR turn TE at West Virginia and went undrafted ad unsigned in 2010. Will then decided to train with CrossFit. Then at WVU pro day in 2011 he weighed in at 242lbs. Put up 225lbs 30 times, ran a 4.49 forty yard dash. He looked so impressive that Mike Tomlin called him over to the sidelines and told him the Steelers were going to sign him. Once in camp he has made his impression as well. Reportedly he has made some good blocks in team drills and has held his own in backs on backers. However we won be able to confirm how Will looks until he is the lead blocker on a run in an actual game. Will has practice squad eligibility as well but I has a feeling he will be the FB though that doesn't mean DJ is off the team either. (My guess DJ is the 3rd TE and 2nd Fullback who plays Sp. Teams)
#6- Toney Clemons WR #11 -
Clemons is listed at 6'2" 210lbs and was one of the Steelers seventh round draft picks in the 2012 draft. He is currently in a fight for what is presumed the fifth and final wide receiver spot on the roster. Clemons has been reported by many to have a case of the Sweed's when he enters the team drill. However he has looked good in the receiver drill and despite the drops he has gotten open a lot in team drill. Playing receiver simplistically put is the combination of two things, being able to get open and being able to catch the ball. Clemons can definitely do the first and if he shows on tape he can do the second the first two weeks of training camp will be forgotten. My eyes will be watching #11 when he is on the field against the rest of the back ups in the second half.
#5-Sean Spence ILB #51-
Sean Spence was considered an undersized linebacker at 5'11 231lbs coming out of Miami for the draft. The Steelers still however drafted Spence with their third round pick. He immediately came into OTAs and minicamp and impressed with how quickly he played and how quickly he learn his assignments. When training camp started and the pads came on the buzz stopped. That doesn't mean he has looked bad he just has done anything spectacular. He is in a fight with Sylvester Stevenson for the back up ILB position and Thursday will be Steeler Nation's first chance to see if he can play IL in the 3-4. Philadelphia is a faster finesse offense that should suit Spence's style of play.
#4- Chris Carter OLB #54-
Chris Carter was a fifth round pick in 2011 out of Fresno State and one I really liked. Carter was undersized at 6'1" approximately 245lbs. He saw some time at OLB in the Patriots game in 2011 and actually had a couple pressures but he looked poor against the run. Over the 2012 off-season he reportedly gained about eight pounds of muscle. In camp because of James Harrison's injury he has received all the first team ROLB snaps and some of the second team ROLB snaps. He has looked much more stout against the run and just as quick while still having that non-stop motor from reports. He will likely play at least the entire half and it will be very interesting to see if Carter can be the next OLB for the Steelers. I am really pulling for him to keep the dominance of the Steelers LB corps for years to come. He will be going against Demetrius Bell of the Eagles who had a breakout season in 2011 for the Bills.
#3- Steve McLendon NT #90-
The National media has made a lot of Casey Hampton's possibility of starting the season on the PUP. However those who follow the Steelers are less afraid of this because of Steve McLendon. McLendon siged with the team as an UDFA in 2009 and made the practice squad after final cuts in both 2009 and 2010. However in 2011 he finally broke into the roster. he even started against the Arizona Cardinals in week 7 and the Steelers defense didn't miss a beat. This off-season he has work even harder. He has gone from an estimated 310lbs in 2011 to 325lbs with a 6'5" frame. He is a gym rat who is hungry to prove he can play well as the starter. he took time in the off-season to hone his three point stance to be a more effective two gap 3-4 NT. In camp he has dominated. He has a quick get off and violent hands he uses well. He and All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey have had their share of battles. He has already looked better than Hampton did in 2011 training camp from reports.There is a huge buzz about McLendon and he should dominate against a young Eagles interior line. This will be the first chance for the world to see he can anchor the Steelers line as a hybrid NT. He is not only big and can play with power but he is lean and fast enough to surprise with his speed.
#2-Mike Adams, OT #76-
After the Senior Bowl Mike Adams was considered a first round pick shutting down Courtney Upshaw and Melvin Ingram. In his Ohio State tape he was inconsistent, dominant against good competition but poor against weaker competition. He is a massive man at 6'7" 325lbs with 34" arms and 10 7/8" hands. His strength in my film review of him was washing defenders outside once he gets his hands on him. Adams dropped to the Steelers in the second round do to a fail drug test for marijuana. He came into camp determined to prove to the organization they did not make a mistake in drafting him. He had his inconsistency early on in camp but as each day goes by he and DeCastro have looked better and better. Adams earned the starting LT spot as he is clearly just as good as Essex if not better. Adams is going to be against one of the better pass rushers in this league in Trent Cole. It will be tough for Adams but I think he can manage if he is attack Cole with his hand punches and focuses on driving him outside. Adams has the ability to be a great LT and for the first time in a while the Steelers have a true LT playing the position and not a converted RT.
#1- Chris Rainey, RB/PR #22-
How could I not put Chris Rainey as the number one player to watch for this preseason game. Rainey has received a lot of carries in camp, had time at the slot as a receiver and has been confirmed by Mike Tomlin will be the punt returner for this game. Rainey is listed at 5'9" (more like 5'8") 180lbs and will look to prove he can handle at least ten touches a game. All the news out of camp has confirmed one thing Chris Rainey is very fast. Not one is he fast he is shifty. His experience at Florida running multiple position shows his football intelligence. In camp the Steelers are throwing at least four positions at Rainey and he is learning them well. He should be used similar to Dexter McCluster was in Haley's Chiefs offense. Rainey should contribute as a PR immediately for the Steelers and starting Thursday we will be able to see if he can contribute in other ways. Look for maybe a couple of snaps in the slot, a few runs at RB and some dump off or screen passes as the Steelers look to see what they have in this presumed diamond in the rough.
Honorable Mentions: Cortez Allen, Curtis Brown, Alameda Ta'amu, Morty Ivy, Adrian Robinson, Sylvester Stevenson and every other player in black and gold.