You may be the type that hates preseason football and if that’s the case you can stop reading…
The Pittsburgh Steelers finally return to the field Monday night after not playing for the last eight days. The opponent may be the Washington Redskins but the real battles will be fought by guys in the black and gold who have yet to secure a roster spot.
There’s no question my eyes will be focused on three different areas for the Steelers.
The first is tight end where David Paulson will try to do his best Heath Miller impersonation with Miller still recovering from knee surgery. Matt Spaeth was expected to be the fill-in for Miller but he’s out for another eight or nine weeks with that lisfranc fracture in his foot.
Paulson has some ability but he is not a good straight-up blocker which is required of Steeler tight ends. Look for the Steelers to try some different combinations using newly signed Michael Palmer and perhaps Jamie McCoy. Peter Tuitupou and Nathan Overbay will also see time tonight.
Another area I really want to watch is the battle at inside linebacker where you have several guys battling for a just a few positions. Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote are the starters but behind them is a massive battle.
The two favorites are currently Stevenson Sylvester and Marshall McFadden but Sly has an ankle sprain he is dealing with while McFadden continues to play at a very high level.
Also in the mix are rookie Vince Williams, Kion Wilson, Terence Garvin and Brian Rolle. Both Williams and Rolle looked good against the New York Giants but will probably see a step up in competition in an effort to determine who rises and who falls.
The final area I’m watching intently will be the special teams unit which was not good last week. A muffed punt return and a blocked punt were just part of the follies.
Special Teams Coach Danny Smith needs to shore up that unit and in doing so, the Steelers also need to establish a return man not named Antonio Brown or Emmanuel Sanders. Those two need to focus on being receivers. Someone needs to emerge whether it be LaRod Stephens-Howling, Markus Wheaton, David Gilreath or Reggie Dunn.
It would be nice if the same guy could handle both punt return and kick return duties but I’m not sure if that is going to happen. Regardless, the Steelers need to start figuring out who the return man will be sooner rather than later.
According to Coach Mike Tomlin, the starters should play a quarter in Washington on offense and defense but the O-Line could see a half of duty. Either way, enjoy the game.
Marc Uhlmann writes for and co-owns www.steelcityblitz.com. Follow him on Twitter @steeldad and follow the website at @SCBlitz. He can be heard Mondays on Trib-Live Radio at 4pm ET talking Steelers.