By Michael K. Reynolds
What conclusions can be drawn from merely the second preseason game of the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers?
Nothing you say? It’s much too early. Chill out. Rubble…rubble…rubble.
Nonsense. Much has already been etched in stone…well at least firmly penciled in. Here are some rapid fire conclusions that can be surmised following the Buffalo Bills game.
Good win, bad game.
It’s ridiculous to say this was an important game to win. But had the Steelers lost their second very winnable preseason match of this young year, the ghosts of season last would have been whispering in their ears. So let’s just say, it was an important win. But with that concession made, let’s also be clear: it was a bad game for the Steelers. It started off with poor kickoff coverage. Continued with bad run defense. And then the second teamers didn’t fare much better. At halftime, the Bills had tacked 212 yard on the “bend but don’t break” Steelers defense even though they were lead by a lower tier quarterback. At game end they had dominated in time of possession, first downs and had a sizable advantage in total yards. Coach Dick LeBeau has some serious work to do in fixing leaks.
Best draft since…dare we say it…1974?
Yes…yes…we ARE getting carried away and being highly premature in our analysis. But that’s what analysts do. And tell me, when was the last time the front office pulled off a trifecta of a first, second and third round jackpot like they…just might…have done with Ryan Shazier, Stephon Tuitt and Dri Archer? And though Martavis Bryant is like watching a juggler on a unicycle on a suspended wire…he’s clearly got a future. And Daniel McCullers? Perhaps the surprise pick of the Steelers draft?
McCullers to Start at Nose?
Speaking of the big fella, is it a complete stretch to believe he may end up being the starting nose tackle before the conclusion of 2014? (At least on obvious run downs). Steve McLendon is clearly a square peg in a round hole at that position. He doesn’t demand a double team and can’t push the pocket consistently. Do the kid a favor, and let him play some defensive end this preseason. He is a strong athlete, with the ability to penetrate, but he’s going to be a liability (again) at the nose. Hebron Fangupo? More suited to the spot than McLendon. But there is no denying the raw ability of McCullers. He’s always moving forward, and draws two defenders, just like the defense is drawn up. And forget this false rumor that he “doesn’t have a fast twitch in his body”. The gentle giant ran a 5’2 40. That’s fast folks for a man of his size. And although he won’t out-ballet Lynn Swann, he is much more nimble than he is credited. Hopefully, LeBeau will give him a shot with the Ones next week.
Time To Throw In the Cards, Kevin
With the fireworks of this year’s draft class in full flare, GM Kevin Colbert can use the distraction to clean up some of his past messes. It’s official. The drafting of quarterback Landry Jones last year was among his worst picks…ever. It’s bad enough that a lack of arm strength limits his ceiling. But even the floor ain’t working for this young man. Certainly, there are many third and fourth string quarterbacks on other teams with a much brighter upside than Jones. We’re even much better off getting a veteran who can press Bruce Gradkowski, who has looked more suited to be a number three. Time to make a move to upgrade this obvious positional vulnerability on the roster. Hate to imagine what happens if Big Ben goes down? Well…you’ve actually witnessed it two weeks in a row.
HoJo’s Got The Mojo
Jack Lambert had it. Greg Lloyd had it. Rod Woodson had it. Joey Porter had it. It was the ability to make the big play when the big play was necessary. If you watch Howard Jones objectively during defensive play, he does get swallowed up by the opposing tackle. But there is no denying the man has a propensity for making a splash. He obviously is a work in progress, but if it comes down to one or the other, it’s time to give Jones the developmental spot that Chris Carter has been occupying for years.
The Gap Is Closing Between Troy & Shamarko
Troy Polamalu is a Hall of Fame first ballot shoe-in and is one of the greatest Steelers of all time. He’s irreplaceable. But with his sunset approaching, perhaps the end of this year, it’s good to know we have Shamarko Thomas waiting in the ranks. He continues to make splash tackle after splash tackle and his mistakes are fewer and farther between. The team needs to get him on the field as much as possible as the baton is being passed.
Mike Mitchell Needs The Eagles
The player who has been hailed as the most important free agent signing of 2014 has yet to fully impress. So far it’s been missed practices, bad angles on 73-yard runs and bonehead penalties that have been featured in his highlight reel. Time for Mike Mitchell to focus on the fundamentals and to pull it together during this last week of full practice and the preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Offense Could Be Very, Very Special
Ben Roethlisberger has never played behind a strong pass-protecting line. Until this year. With an O-line to give him time and a bevy full of explosive weapons, Big Ben may make the Steelers suffer Big Regret for not getting his Big Extension done this year as opposed to next. Kevin. Do you still have Ben’s agent’s number on speed dial?
One Say Hey For Darrius Heyward-Bey
First there was the concussion holding him out of practice. Then there was the cruelty of having his quarterback be Landry Jones when he was on the field against the Bills. It’s a bit of a bum rap for Bey. Here’s one lone vote that Heyward-Bey could have a breakout year, if he gets a fair chance to prove himself. Say what you want about his hands, from a size-speed combination he remains one of the top athletes in the league.
A Few Do-Gooders
- Tauren Poole continues to look ordinary at running back, but special at special teams.
- Josh Mauro might just make the 53.
- William Gay continues to quietly be excellent.
- Brice McCain may be the fourth best cornerback on the team…and climbing.
- Mike Adams may have done enough to earn the swing tackle position.
- Markus Wheaton continues to grow into the number two spot.
- Vic So’oto. It will be a shame when they have to cut him.
A Few Disappointments
- Brendon Kay: “Put me in in coach!”
- Cortez Allen: Are you the One?