Ziggy Hood – A lot has been made about the offseason transformation that Hood has made and we should briefly get to see him for at least a series or two, one would think. With three years now under his belt, Hood must complete the transformation into the every down dominate left defensive end the Steelers thought he would be when they drafted in the first round of the 2009 draft. Don\’t blink though, as he might be out of the game very quickly.
Steve McLendon – The reports have been very positive thus far in camp on McLendon, who has matured and grown, both literally and figuratively, in the Steelers system since originally being signed as an undrafted free agent. With veteran Casey Hampton still on the PUP and rookie Alameda Ta\’amu still under construction, McLendon will be looked upon to anchor the middle of the defensive line this year at least until Hampton is fully healthy.
Cortez Allen – While Allen is a lock to make the roster, he still has a chance to win the starting cornerback position opposite Ike Taylor. Keenan Lewis might not be able to play Thursday night because of his injured shoulder, so Allen could have the main stage to himself early on in the game. When the Steelers go into their nickel, watch to see if Allen moves inside or stays outside. I expect a good game out of Allen, who has reportedly been very consistent thus far in camp.
Curtis Brown – Brown too is a lock to make the 53 man roster, but this will be his first action on defense in a game for the Steelers since last preseason. Brown is a solid tackler and superior special teams player and figures to play both outside and inside once he enters the game. Should Lewis indeed not play, watch where Brown plays initially when he enters. He figures to take over for Taylor once the first team defensive unit is done for the night.
Chris Carter – With both James Harrison and Jason Worilds still on the PUP list and unable to practice, Carter has gotten extensive work as the starting right outside linebacker so far in camp. This is essentially like another rookie season for Carter thanks to the lockout and a troublesome hamstring that plagued him all of last season. During his limited playing time on defense last year, he looked lost, just as you would expect, but now he should have a little better understanding of what is going on around him with a full offseason now under his belt. Carter has put on weight in the form of muscle this past offseason and must show that he is not still just a speed rusher on the outside. Watch for his ability to push the pocket and provide pressure on passing downs by either bull rushing his defender or starting up the field and coming across the face of the man designated to block him.
Stevenson Sylvester – Will the third year linebacker back up starter Larry Foote at the BUCK position initially or will he be forced to play on the left outside due to the lack of numbers. Truth be told, he is likely to see time both inside and outside during the game. This is considered a jump year for Sylvester after being in the Steelers system now for two years.
Sean Spence – Spence figures to get a lot of playing time inside and initially at the MACK position. In addition, it will be interesting to see if he also gets any snaps at the BUCK spot at any point in the game. Spence had a solid offseason while in shorts, but not too much has been reported on him overall since training camp has started. Spence also looks to get time on special teams, where he will be asked to contribute the most during his rookie season.
Al Woods – Woods was claimed off waivers from the Seattle Seahawks last year and is battling for the fourth defensive end spot on the 53 man roster. He has reportedly worked on both the right and left sides during training camp thus far and word is that he will play on the right side after Brett Keisel exits the game with Cameron Heyward already being ruled out. It will be interesting to see if Woods also gets snaps on the left side as well to show his position flexibility.
Corbin Bryant – Bryant is perceived to be in a battle with the aforementioned Woods for one roster spot. Last preseason the Northwestern product played exclusively on the left side, so that is where he is expected to see most of, if not all of, his action Thursday night. Like Woods, it will be interesting to see if the Steelers allow Bryant to flip over to the right side to show some versatility. I doubt he will though.
Damon Cromartie-Smith – Despite starting training camp on the PUP list as he finished recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, Cromartie-Smith is now back practicing and gunning possibly for a 5th safety spot on the 53 man roster behind both Ryan Mundy and Will Allen. Like the aforementioned McLendon, Cromartie-Smith has had plenty of time to learn and develop in the Steelers defensive system and he should get plenty of playing time late in the game at the strong safety position. Although he figures not play early on in the game on the defensive side of the ball, he should get early work on special teams where he can help his cause greatly with a solid performance.
Alameda Ta\’amu – Ta\’amu figures to get extensive playing time after McLendon is done for the night. While reports on the Steelers fourth round pick have been good collectively, defensive line coach John Mitchell has only begun the process of breaking him down and putting him back together again just as he does with each and every defensive lineman. The ability of Ta\’amu to provide two gap control and often times asked to control two blockers will be a key element to watch. Also being watched will be his ability to stay square to the line. Whatever the level of his performance might be Thursday night, keep in mind he has just started the process of becoming a true 3-4 nose tackle.
Adrian Robinson – Robinson appears to be the star of the undrafted class this year and figures to see time at right outside linebacker after Carter is done for the night. The Temple product caught the eye of linebacker coach Keith Butler during the offseason program and he figures to get extensive playing time to further solidly him at the very least making the practice squad.
Terrence Frederick – The Steelers had to release undrafted free agent Terry Carter after he suffered a hamstring injury last week and it appeared that he was the only young cornerback providing competition to the Frederick, one of the Steelers four seventh round draft picks. Through the first few weeks of camp there really hasn\’t been too much reported on how Frederick looks, so Thursday night I will certainly have my eyes on him. The top four cornerbacks on the roster are set and the Steelers will likely carry at least five on the 53 man roster. Frederick figures to get playing time late in the game, but perhaps the biggest showing that he can make will come via special teams. In college Frederick played both inside and out and reportedly has done the same early on in camp.
Brandon Johnson – Johnson was signed very late in the offseason because of the need for healthy bodies due to Harrison and Worilds being down. While he has played both outside and inside so far in training camp, it will be most interesting to see how he rushes the passer on the outside being as it is not really something he has had to do a lot of in all the time he has been in the league. Johnson is regarded as a strong special teams player, so one would think that he would contribute in that capacity Thursday night.
Several will scold me for leaving players such as Myron Rolle, Robert Golden and Andre Freeman off my main list, but I see these three players as not having a legitimate shot at making the roster. Of those three, I currently think Golden has the best shot at making the practice squad.