Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Five end-of-August Steelers thoughts

By Mike Batista

I promised another post by the end of August, so here you go.

What a month August was. It started with me moving. I spent hours packing and unpacking (which I haven't finished) and had to run around to scrape together enough cash for the movers. All that, and it turns out my apartment in New Jersey is only 13 miles closer to Heinz Field than my apartment in New York.

Last week's earthquake didn't move me any closer to the big yellow stadium in Pittsburgh. Thankfully, I'm one of the lucky ones. Neither the earthquake nor Hurricane Irene had much impact on me.

My 40th birthday is another story. I could not get out of the way of that storm's path during the month of August.

So let's finish up this tumultuous month with five random Steelers observations as they enter their final preseason game tomorrow night.

  • If James Harrison doesn't get any better, he can't play in Week 1. He's still recovering from back surgery in the offseason, and right now he's a liability. You can play a man down in football, just not American football. The Steelers won't win in Baltimore playing 10 on 11. Maybe they move Lawrence Timmons to outside linebacker and put Larry Foote on the inside, if he has anything left. Or maybe second-year man Stevenson Sylvester is ready to step in on the inside. The Steelers have drafted some good linebackers the last couple of years. It's time to put that depth to use. Jason Worilds showed some flashes last year. It doesn't sound like he's made much progress in the preseason, but he might have to be ready to replace Harrison on the outside.
  • Someone tell me again how the Steelers got Jerricho Cotchery. It's a matter of keeping up with the Joneses in the AFC. The Steelers have to make sure they have more than teams like the Patriots, Ravens and Jets. The Jets' near-comeback against the Steelers in the AFC championship game was pretty damn scary. Somehow, one of the more formidable weapons of the Jets' second-half assault is now in a Steelers uniform. The Steelers should make like Joe Pesci firing his gun into the air after he jacked the truck in "Goodfellas." With Cotchery, the Steelers have the luxury of allowing Emmanuel Sanders to take his time coming back from foot surgery. That brings me to another Steelers receiver, someone who many are rooting for to make the team, but probably won't. Tyler Grisham will be fighting for a job tomorrow night. The Steelers have five legitimate threats at wide receiver with Mike Wallace, Hines Ward, Cotchery, Sanders and Antonio Brown, who looks like he's ready to have a breakout year. The Steelers can afford to use their sixth wide receiver spot on a special teams ace like Arnaz Battle. Grisham isn't as good on special teams. He's got practice squad written all over him.
  • Cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and Crezdon Butler likely will make the team. I'd love to see one of them start opposite Ike Taylor at cornerback Sept. 11. That probably won't happen, though. Butler made the highlight reel with his 95-yard interception return for a touchdown in the preseason game against the Falcons. But he and Lewis both made some mistakes in the game, too. It would be quite a redemption story if Lewis becomes any kind of contributor, considering some of those boneheaded penalties in his first two years. But we're probably going to be stuck with Bryant McFadden starting, and maybe even William Gay as the nickelback. Same old mediocre Steelers secondary.
  • It looks like Tony Hills won't be the starting right guard, after all. Doug Legursky will get a long look tomorrow night. It's too bad. I was really rooting for Hills to get a starting job. It would have been a shining example of perseverance. Hills dropped into the fourth round of the 2008 draft after breaking his leg his senior year at Texas. He seemed lost his first couple of years. I remember seeing him play a little bit in Tennessee last season when Steelers players were dropping like flies in the September heat. Still, it looked like he would have to get a job in the real world this summer. But he must have done something right during the offseason, because he's been competing for a starting job and has earned the label as the Steelers' most "athletic" offensive lineman. We might not see Hills' name listed among the starters on the CBS graphic a few minutes after 1 p.m. on Sept. 11. But Hills might be in a good position to make the team and be heard from eventually. Hang in there, Tony.
  • I don't know about you, but I'm just not comfortable with Shaun Suisham as the Steelers' kicker. His wide, wide, wide left on the 52-yarder, indoors, in Super Bowl XLV is burned into my consciousness like the sight of Rosie O'Donnell naked.
That is all. See you in September.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Preseason: Steelers 24, Eagles 14

By Mike Batista

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin long ago coined the term "January football" to refer to the NFL playoffs.

Just in case anyone hasn't noticed, it isn't January. It's summer, and what went on Thursday night at Heinz Field was "August football."

That means it's preseason. It doesn't count. So despite the Steelers' domination of the Eagles, my opinion of the Eagles' "Dream Team" campaign hasn't changed either way, just as my opinion of how good the Steelers are doesn't change with this game.

Who's going to remember this game five years from now? Two years from now? Or even in November? When people talk about the greatest games and performances they've seen, preseason games don't come up.

My thoughts on the Eagles both before and after Thursday's game is that the "Dream Team" concept never works in the NFL. Just ask the Redskins. It damn near worked with the Miami Heat in the NBA. They were two wins away from a championship. But there are many more moving parts in football. Despite their loaded free agent shopping cart, I wouldn't book rooms in Indianapolis just yet if I were the Eagles.

One last opinion from Thursday's game. I think Tomlin should suspend Troy Polamalu for the rest of the preseason. I know Tomlin might be putting his job on the line, but for the sake of Polamalu's health, the Steelers might just have to risk a 1-3 preseason record.

Polamalu should have taken a knee and/or curled up in a fetal ball position after making that interception. Instead, he risked injury in a meaningless game with one of his patented zig-zag returns and got turned upside down my Michael Vick.

Considering his injuries the last couple of years, the sight of Polamalu's flowing locks on the field in August gives me ulcers. Does he really need to play in the preseason? I think he'll make the team.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Preseason: Redskins 16, Steelers 7

Ike Taylor breaks thumb in preseason opener

By Mike Batista

I didn't watch the Steelers' preseason opener on Friday night. I watch very little preseason football. During the game, however, I happened across a photo of Ben Roethlisberger with his leg wedged under diving Redskins cornerback Kenny Barnes. Roethlisberger appears to be awkwardly trying to get rid of the ball.

I thought the Steelers' season was over right then and there, 30 days before kickoff in Baltimore. In that still photograph, it looked like Roethlisberger's knee could have been torn up. So I scoured the Internet for any news on the play. I must have refreshed the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Steelers page more times than Nayda Suleman refreshes diapers.

Fortunately, Roethlisberger's leg and knee did not make any news. But that doesn't mean the Steelers escaped their first preseason game with a clean bill of health.

The most serious injury was Ike Taylor's broken thumb. Not that big a deal, considering Taylor can't catch anyway. He'll likely need surgery but should be back in time for the season opener.

What I found a little annoying, though, were the rest of the injuries. Ryan Clark left with a stinger and Roethlisberger dinged his hand and hip. Neither injury was serious, but those scrapes, combined with all the Steelers who have sat out practices with various ticky tack injuries, make me think that maybe the Steelers really are getting old. They seem like duffers getting hurt at the company softball game.

That's why signing Jerricho Cotchery is a good move. This team could use any insurance it can get at any position. In my mind, the best thing I read about Cotchery is that he knows where the first down marker is. I like that.

On Cotchery's Wikipedia page, it says he was born with six fingers on his left hand. Maybe he can loan Taylor one.