With Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin going on record for only playing his starters for '10 to 12 snaps', the team will have the opportunity to rest their wounded, while position battles take center stage.
If there is a bright-side to the injury epidemic sweeping through Latrobe, Pa this week, it is the positions affected. With deeper reserves forced into action, players often begging for snaps will see significant playing time -- the perfect opportunity to establish one's self in the mind of the coaches during a game, and more importantly in the eye of the game film cameras.
When opportunity comes knocking at Heinz Field Saturday, August 10th at 7:30 pm ET, these seven players need to rise up and answer the call (in no particular order).
1. WR Derek Moye
Moye joined the Steelers at the end of the 2012 season. The former Nittany Lion entered the league as an undrafted free agent last year with the Miami Dolphins, bounced to the New Orleans Saints in June, and landed with the Steelers in November. His 6-5, 215 pound frame combined with 4.4 speed per the 2012 Scouting Combine make him an attractive prospect.
He benefited from the same technicality as inside linebacker Marshall McFadden, which allowed both to attend the team's rookie orientation weekend this summer. Moye used it as a refresher course, and is now reaping the rewards. He has displayed consistent hands and has made some plays in training camp against the league's best secondary from 2012. He has already worked his way up to third in line behind Antonio Brown and Jerricho Cotchery on one side of the offensive depth chart.
With Plaxico Burress injuring his shoulder and probably limiting his participation Saturday night, Moye has a chance to prove he can be the big trustworthy target on gamedays.
2. ILB Marshall McFadden
McFadden has also had a confidence inspiring performance in the early stages of training camp. Unfortunately, so have some of his competitors at times; however, no one is comparing them to James Harrison. McFadden trained with Velocity Sports Performance this off-season to give him an edge physically, and he joined Moye for the rookie weekend refresher to give him an edge mentally. Now, he just needs to put them together on the field in real game situations.
If the '10 to 12 snaps' limit refers to defensive starters as well, then McFadden will see plenty of time in the middle of the defense alongside Stevenson Sylvester, Vince Williams, Brian Rolle and Terence Garvin. If the team really does view Sylvester as the primary backup inside, then McFadden is fighting for survival, with the potential of Williams and the rapid recovery of Sean Spence leaving roster spots at a minimum.
3. TE Jaime McCoy
With Heath Miller still on the PUP list recovering from a torn ACL, and David Johnson also on the same list recovering for the same injury in training camp 2012; David Paulson and McCoy will probably see more playing time than most other 'starters'. Tomlin has stated McCoy will see time at fullback behind Will Johnson, as well as tight end.
Coming into camp, McCoy was projected to be the practice squad TE, with Spaeth, Paulson and D. Johnson holding down the fort until Miller returned. With Paulson the only healthy one among those four, McCoy has a perfect opportunity to work a little further up the ladder. The Steelers have liked D. Johnson for his ability to play TE and FB; McCoy can prove he's ready to play the part.
4. CB Isaiah Green
Green is making a great first impression with the Steelers. Another knocked-around undrafted free-agent turned camp body in Pittsburgh, is forcing on-lookers to take a closer look. While Antonio Brown and Ike Taylor occasionally 'tussle' because the WR continues to beat the DB, Brown has not enjoyed the same success against Green. He was one of Mark Kaboly's surprise standouts during OTAs. Green is recording interceptions in practice, but as Allen Iverson can tell you -- Practice is practice, not a game. Not a game, but practice.
Ike Taylor and William Gay will start the game, but half the depth chart below them is on the injured list. With Cortez Allen, Curtis Brown, Terry Hawthorne and DeMarcus Van Dyke out of action for now, Green will be one of only a few healthy DBs available for the game. If all those in front of him return, his best shot is to earn practice squad consideration; but if he can stay healthy and play at a high level, he could set himself up for a promotion.
But, he'll have to contend with...
5. CB Josh Victorian
Victorian is one of the few other healthy defensive backs available for Saturday's game. He joined the team during the preseason last year, and managed to make his way on to the active roster late in the regular season when Taylor, Allen and Keenan Lewis dealt with nagging leg injuries. Victorian played as well as Van Dyke and Brown, but that doesn't say very much.
Green and Victorian possess the raw ability needed to maintain a career in the NFL. Each have shown good play awareness, assisting in takeaways and pass coverage, but Victorian still has the occasional lapse. His experience should continue to give him an edge, but Green could pass him by with a stronger performance on Saturday.
6. OL Mike Golic Jr.
While Golic does not possess NFL 'grown-man strength' yet, he has proven to be a student of the game. Whether he gets his passion for pigskin from his NFL-player father or of his own ambition, Golic has exhibited nearly every trait the Steelers have been looking for in their linemen, but his lack of strength is still his biggest weakness.
The Steelers look like a team with no clue toward their offensive tackle situation. Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert will start on one side of the line or another, but the only reserve tackle deserving of any praise so far is Kelvin Beachum, the collegiate tackle who the Steelers wanted to groom into an interior lineman. Whimper has lived up to his name, and will now be a limper on Saturday's sidelines. Recent acquisition D'Anthony Batiste has looked just as promising, although he is still healthy. Rookie Mike Farrell is now gone. Golic's major competition is Joe Long, another youngster with some NFL bloodlines as the brother of former 1st overall pick Jake Long.
If Golic can prove serviceable in game situations, he could find himself with the eighth spot on the offensive line roster, playing a similar role to Beachum.
7. SS Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith
After spending the last two years on the practice squad waiting for his opportunity behind Ryan Clark, Troy Polamalu, Will Allen and Ryan Mundy, Cromartie-Smith's chance has finally arrived, but it may be too late. The Steelers believe they have their next safety duo in Robert Golden and rookie Shamarko Thomas. Golden was a fifth safety on the team's opening 53-man roster last year, but there are no guarantees they'll keep five again this year.
Cromartie-Smith has been making a few plays in practice, and dropped a few other possible interceptions, but he needs to clearly outplay his competitors to keep his name relevant on the depth chart. He needs to show up on special teams, as well as on defense. If Golden and Thomas exhibit any hesitation from inexperience, Cromartie-Smith needs to make the team believe he will be an asset in the regular season, and remind the team why they've kept him around this long in the first place.
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