The Steelers' 2006 preseason concludes tonight with a contest against the Carolina Panthers. Because Coach Cowher told us himself that the starters would not play much of a role in tonight's game, let's go ahead and breakdown the performances of each position.
Quarterbacks: Roethlisberger has looked as good as we could have hoped thus far this preseason. He's only played a handful of series, but he's looked good in the pocket, bounced right up after being hit, and has even expanded his repertoire by operating in the no-huddle. Roethlisberger is 15/22 for 91 yards, 1 pick and 1 TD. Nothing glitzy, but I think we all agree that Ben's right where he needs to be. So long as he and Hines can get back on the same page quickly, I'm expecting big things once again out of Roethlisberger this year.
Perhaps the more pleasant surprise has been the steady play of backup Charlie Batch . Batch is 21/33 for 202 yards, 1 INT, and 1 TD. If something were to happen to Ben, I'd be confident that Batch would step in adequately. Because he's been so steady in the preseason games and during training camp, the development of Omar Jacobs seems rather inconsequential as it relates to our chances in 2006.
Running Backs: Our running game this preseason has been up and down. Many would point to the so-so performance of Duce Staley as an indication that we're going to struggle in short yardage situations this year with Jerome Bettis no longer suiting up. I'm not convinced. First of all, I think Staley may be better than people expect. In fact, I'm sure he will considering most are writing him off as overweight and incapable of returning anywhere near his prior form. Regardless of what Staley does, Parker and Haynes have both had great camps, and I fully expect them both to have great seasons. We haven't run the ball too much this preseason, so there numbers aren't particularly gawdy. Parker has carried the ball 7 times for 30 yards, and has 4 receptions for 25 yards. Haynes has 25 yards on 8 carries, but has been impressive in the passing game, catching 8 balls for 52 yards. Despite the fact that these numbers aren't very impressive, all reports from camp attest that both Parker and Haynes look fitter, stronger, and more patient running the ball than at the same time last year. I truly believe Parker is primed for a huge year; so do the Steelers judging by the contract extension they just awarded him. If both can stay healthy, I expect the two to amass somewhere between 1500-2000 yards on the ground. Let's not forget we still have old-faithful Dan Kreider taking on linebackers and opening up holes for whoever is carrying the ball.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends In my mind, the big story of this camp has been the quick development of Willie Reid. I think we all expected Santonio Holmes to contribute at some point this season, but I'm not sure we all expected Willie Reid to play a significant factor this year. He may not, but he sure has looked good so far, catching 12 balls for 88 yards. Cedrick Wilson has also looked good, hauling in 6 catches for 82 yards and 2 TDs. There's little question as to what we're going to get from Heath Miller, so if Hines Ward can return and maintain his past production, we should be even more versatile in the passing game. Randle-El was a neat weapon to have, but he wasn't the greatest posession receiver.Grade: B but only because Hines's hamstring is still somewhat of a question mark.
Our offensive line has looked pretty piss poor this preseason, but it's not time to panic, mainly because the guys stinking up the joint are guys who aren't going to see the field extensively unless there are substantial injuries. We still have Jeff Hartings, Alan Faneca, Marvel Smith, Max Starks and Kendall Simmons anchoring the line. If those guys stay healthy, we'll once again have one of the top 5 offensive lines in football. What's been discouraging has been the play of their backups. Trai Essex, Barret Brooks, and Chris Kemoeatu have all not progressed significantly. Rookie Willie Colon has been the lone bright spot amongst the back-up linemen.
Tomorrow we'll assess the play of the defense.