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Pregame Zone Blitz: Steelers at Redskins

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The preseason marches on, but the Steelers won't be taking the bus Jeff Reed duped them into thinking they would take to a movie theater Thursday, the last day of training camp.

That Jeff Reed...he's a funny one.

Here's what we're reading out of Redskins camp this week.

I always get a kick out of stories about the Steelers fans traveling to road games, but when we (the fans) are able to force teams to change their offenses based on our turnout, you feel nothing but pride.

Every coach has to support his guy, I suppose, but for Redskins safeties coach Steve Jackson to suggest La’Ron Landry is better than Troy Polamalu is akin to having Kool-Aid pumped straight into your veins. Redskins fans on agree.

Redskins coach Jim Zorn says the "Battle of Towels" that will apparently result from the Redskins giving away 50,000 white "Redskins Rally" towels in preparation for an invasion of Terrible Towels "will be fun." I guess.

Many Redskins fans are writing their displeasure after the 23-0 loss at Baltimore, and are already discussing their coaching options (coach Cower?).

Opponent Spotlight: OLB Brian Orakpo
"I thought he had exceptional speed. I thought he played hard. I liked what I saw. I think we got a player there." – Redskins head coach Jim Zorn on rookie OLB Brian Orakpo

Washington wasted little time selecting Texas’s DE/OLB combo platter Brian Orakpo with the 13th overall pick in April’s draft. Orakpo wasted little time in making an impact for the marginalized franchise, who sunk a lot of personnel attention and dollars on the defensive side of the ball.

Along with DT Albert Haynesworth’s enormous contract, and picking up Orakpo – whom many said is a steal at the 13th pick – the Redskins improved the league’s 4th-ranked defense, and bring a unique defense to FedEx Field when they face the Steelers in both teams second preseason game.

Orakpo is an interesting opponent to watch Saturday, partially due to his versatility, but mostly due to the fact his explosiveness and athleticism will provide the Steelers with some up-to-date experience against a multi-faceted player not unlike Baltimore’s Terrell Suggs, Cincinnati’s Keith Rivers and Cleveland’s Kamerion Wimbley.

As if tackles Max Starks and Willie Colon don’t get enough of that in practice from two of the game’s best outside linebackers, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, dealing with the threat of a blitzer when on the road and keeping snap counts in check are critical components of the preseason.

They’re going to have to buckle their chinstraps Saturday. After the whipping Baltimore’s offense put on them, (500 total yards), it’s likely defensive coordinator Greg Blache lit a fire under them all week.

Perhaps even more important, though, is the simulation of those factors for those battling for back-up tackle positions. Tony Hills and Ramon Foster could get a shot at the defensive end version of Orakpo after the starters play the first quarter. With Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger banged up in practice Thursday, and the fact Orakpo crushed Ravens QB Troy Smith on a pass at the end of the first half, Hills and Foster get a chance to show their worth against a pretty powerful opponent.

Steelers Spotlight: CB Joe Burnett
Working as the second-team nickel position, Burnett has drawn praise from defensive backs coach Ray Horton recently, and his 42-yard interception return against Arizona in Preseason Week 1 was the highlight of the game. He doesn’t have the size of his fellow rookie CB Keenan Lewis, but he has already shown a knack for making plays, and has great instincts on the field.

He’ll be utilized Saturday, given Washington’s competitive battle at the wide receiver position, and it will be interesting to see how well he matches up with a diverse group of receivers.

Burnett is an example of the youth movement the Steelers secondary is currently developing, and while it’s not likely he cracks the starting lineup, he has a fantastic example of positive development and the results of that in front of him. William Gay graded out higher than any other Steelers cornerback last season, and he was also a fifth-round pick from Conference USA (Burnett from Central Florida, Gay from Louisville). Gay will start opposite Ike Taylor this season, and veteran Deshea Townsend in the running for the first nickel spot, Burnett’s biggest contributions this season will be on special teams. He fumbled one punt against Arizona, and the ESPN camera crew caught coach Mike Tomlin stalking him down after the play to speak to him.

It seems like he’s in good standing with the coaches, and his first pro game showed some flashes of ability.

Last Game
"I almost forgot to predict that (Isaac) Redman would lead the team in preseason rushing. The reasons were evident in the fourth quarter last night. Keen vision, strong leg drive and a real nose for the end zone. He’s a leaner, meaner Gary Russell." – Jim Wexell, Steel City Insider

It’s a very apt description, comparing this year’s Training Camp Darling Redmond to 2007’s breakout player. Redmond looked decisive, confident and probably the most important trait, strong. That’s an area in which Russell, the former Steeler, could not show enough consistency.

Perhaps it’s alarming, but it didn’t look like 2008 first-round pick Rashard Mendenhall was all that strong, either. Redmond’s become the talk of camp after he scored two touchdowns in the Steelers’ preseason-opening win.

The question now is if Pittsburgh would seriously consider Redmond as a goal line back, or if he's just working to make the practice squad. Either way, the goal line is an area of high concern for the offense, and if Willie Parker or Mendenhall can't get the job done, the team will look at Redmond or other rookie Frank Summers to get the job done.

I See You
I see you, Limas Sweed, for your domination of Arizona’s secondary in the time you had in Preaseason Week 1. Sweed looks much more confident, showing he can be the playmaker everyone hoped he would be when the Steelers selected him in the second round of the 2008 draft. He did drop a catchable pass from Dennis Dixon along the sideline, but he went up over former Steeler Bryant McFadden to make a nice catch and move the chains, giving skeptics enough doubt to think he’s going to add to what looks to be the strongest position on the offense. 
Key Stats
In P Dan Sepulveda’s return, he booted a nasty 49.5 yard average, and carried a 41-yard net average. That would have placed him third in the NFL last season, behind Oakland’s Shane Lechler (41.2) and St. Louis’s Donnie Jones (41.1). 

Quick Hitters
Ben on Ice: It appears Roethlisberger will not play tonight due to the foot injury he suffered when Starks rolled over it in practice this past week. 

Protect the Knees: Last time the Steelers went to Washington for the preseason, Brett Keisel was accusing of going after QB Jason Campbell’s knees on a hit. Campbell hobbled around, but was ok. Issues like this make everyone nervous about the length of time the QB stays in the meaningless game.

Guilty Pleasure:  I witnessed the return of Lord Favre last night at the Metrodome. Despite closing on a house one day later than scheduled, 90 minutes after signing my life away, I was outside the Dome with Anti-Steelers-Friend Chuck, drinking beers, judging people’s jersey selections (the best was a Dwayne Rudd No. 57 jersey, which does qualify for Throwback Status).

A-S-F-Chuck has season tickets, and I told him if (when) Favre signed with the Vikings, I wanted to be there for the first game where he was announced. Perhaps wisely, the Vikings did not announce their individual starters, but the crowd went plenty crazy when the Purple No. 4 waltzed onto the field. He then completed 1-of-4 passes for four yards. So obviously, Vikings fans are having serious buyer’s remorse right now. The experience was memorable, though, it’s not every free agent signing that teams see probably $1,000,000 worth of merchandise sold just 24 hours after it.

There were plenty of Favre jerseys all over, and interestingly enough, many of them were Packers jerseys. There were even a few Favre Packers Pro Bowl jerseys. One guy had a piece of cardboard taped over the 8 on his old Randy Moss No. 84 jersey, and a piece of duct tape taped over "Moss," and "Favre" written on the tape.

Who says the preseason isn’t fun?