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Pregame Zone Blitz: Steelers at Panthers

The third preseason game was as crisp as fall air. We even got to hear a little bit of smack talk from James Farrior. While the Panthers have yet another quality running back in the works, the final game of the preseason - tonight at Carolina - is all about the final roster cuts. Here's what our opponents are up to. 

Opponent Web Sites/Forums

Panthers CB Chris Gamble got a huge contract this off-season. He responded by giving up multiple plays to Ravens receivers Kelley Washington and Derrick Mason in their 17-13 preseason week 3 loss to Baltimore.

The Charlotte Observer's Scott Fowler says the Panthers need to play their starters against Pittsburgh, because, "it's a chance to practice with their defense against the defending Super Bowl champs."

This isn't normally something that would make the link list, perhaps it's because I was hungry when I wrote this, but fans posting on the Carolina Huddle Message Board are describing one helluva tailgate spread before tonight's game.

The resignations of Stadium President Jon Richardson and Team President Mark Richardson from the Panthers organization were announced this week. Their father, Jerry Richardson, is the Panthers owner and founder. Will that make Christmas Dinner weird?

Opponent Spotlight: RB Mike Goodson

It could be too early to call Panthers rookie RB Mike Goodson the next Maurice Jones-Drew. His versatility, though, shows flashes of the Jaguars supposed undersized multi-purpose threat. What's even better for the fourth-round pick out of Texas A&M, at 6-foot-0, 212 pounds, he's a lot bigger than MJD - just not as talented yet.

Goodson had an impressive 78 total yards from scrimmage on 11 carries and three receptions against Baltimore in preseason week 3. With injuries to regulars DeAngelo Williams and Jonathon Stewart this preseason, Goodson made enough of his chance to earn a roster spot behind the two former first-round picks.

He made such an impression after the draft, All-Pro WR Steve Smith even mentioned being impressed with him after checking out his college highlights on YouTube.

In a game that typically only has the allure of watching the 51-55 ranked players on teams fight for special teams spots, it'll be interesting to see how Goodson can handle facing the starting units of two of the best defenses in the game. He's been impressive so far, let's see if he can continue it.

Steelers Spotlight: KR Stefan Logan

"I think this is the right spot for me, and I feel like I definitely can do the right thing for them." - KR Stefan Logan on playing for the Steelers

Guys like Stefan Logan make coaches love their jobs. They make it so incredibly hard to cut him, coaches get the chance to make the difficult decisions they love to make.

His lack of ability to make the squad solely as an offensive player aside, he's turned enough heads as the first explosive return man the Steelers have had since Antwaan Randle-El. Len Pasquarelli of ESPN writes that the Steelers have had 16 kick returners and 10 punt returners since Randle-El.

Logan, the diminutive pinball from small Division II University of South Dakota, has done enough with returns alone to merit a roster spot.

Numbers may work against him, as they usually do for players competing to make the team as special teams contributors, but as John Harris pointed out Wednesday, Steelers 2008 Rookie of the Year Patrick Bailey cemented his roster spot in the last preseason game.

Logan's not a rookie in terms of age. At age 28, it's his first year in the NFL, but he looks plenty comfortable filling a role the Steelers have been without since 2005. Rookie CB Joe Burnett has fumbled twice in his punt return opportunities, and Logan's 14 yard average shows consistency and the ability to break the big play. He also had a 60 yard return against Washington and his nearly 40-yard average gives him a clear advantage over rookie Mike Wallace going into Week 1 vs. Tennessee.

Last Game

"Maybe they need to huddle up a little more." - Steelers LB and Captain James Farrior, on Buffalo's newly installed no-huddle offense, which was yielded zero touchdowns so far this preseason.

Preseason aside, Pittsburgh's 17-0 blanking of offense-less Buffalo at least appeared to be what head coach Mike Tomlin asked for before the game - 60 minutes of Steelers football.

Despite the fact the Bills were without WR Terrell Owens, they were able to manage just 135 total yards (86 through the air), and the Steelers got a blocked field goal from rookie CB Joe Burnett with less than three minutes to go to conserve the shut-out.

It was that kind of a game for the Steelers defense. Completely overpowering.

LB James Farrior scored on an interception return, and the Steelers stopped the Bills starters to just 50 yards of offense in the half the two starting units faced each other.

I See You

I see you, Brett Keisel. You're the latest example of the recent Steelers trend of bucking age when it comes to signing the "right" veterans to extensions after they reach 30, joining James Farrior, Hines Ward and James Harrison.

Keisel got his contract not just because he's a great, versatile athlete; it's simply because he's one of those players who doesn't need coaching, shows up each practice ready to work and goes about his business the right way. On the field, the intensity in which he plays mirrors the seventh round pick he was back in 2002, when he was just trying to make the team.

There are few who typify Steelers Football more than Brett Keisel. It's great to have him around for another five years.

We're Canoe-Paddling right along with you, Brett.


Key Stats

Stefan Logan is averaging 13.9 yards per punt return, and 39.3 yards per kick return. The Steelers averaged 6.2 yards per punt return and 20.3 yards per kick return in 2008.

The Steelers starting defense has yet to allow a touchdown in three preseason games.

Pittsburgh has completed 55 passes this preseason, 31 of them have gone for first downs (56 percent). New Orleans leads the preseason at 60 percent.

QB Ben Roethlisberger had more passing yards (168) in the one half he played than Buffalo had total yards all game (135) in Pittsburgh's 17-0 preseason week 3 win.

Quick Hitters

Bronco Legursky: With Darnell Stapleton placed on ice for this season, veteran C Doug Legursky has likely locked down a roster spot. Rookie A.Q. Shipley will likely end up on the practice squad (has anyone mentioned he's from Pittsburgh?).

Mr. Fox: Keyaron Fox got to join the highlight reel of Steelers linebackers making audibly violent hits against Buffalo, when he crushed return man Leodis McKelvin. He continued to thump his way toward recognition, and with the ankle injury to Lawrence Timmons, he'll start at the mack linebacker spot against Carolina. It's up in the air whether Timmons will be able to play in the season-opener.