This is the week all cuts must be made in the NFL. Teams must reduce their rosters to 75 by tomorrow and 53 by Saturday. That turns the focus not on who will win starting jobs, but who will win jobs at all.
Among those fighting for them are safeties Anthony Madison and Tyrone Carter. The Steelers likely will keep nine, possibly 10 defensive backs and some, such as rookie Roy Lewis and William Gay, are making their case by playing cornerback and safety.
Madison, who is just 5-9 and 180 pounds, is making his case by playing special teams the way Chidi Iwuoma did. His tackle on Vikings punt returner Aundrae Allison in the second quarter should be required study for punt coverage. He hit Allison without hesitation, wrapped him up and kept him down for a 1-yard loss.
Carter, who lost some favor when he became the starting free safety near the end of last season, made two good plays at the goal line in the second quarter to thwart a Vikings thrust that eventually was successful on third down. But then, he missed a tackle on a run around end later, something that he did too many times in the playoff loss to Jacksonville.
It doesn't look good
Veteran return man Eddie Drummond will have a tough time making it with his hometown team. Signed the first week of training camp to try to bolster a lackluster return game, Drummond has done little to convince coaches his best days are not behind him.
He fell down fielding a second-half punt Saturday night and has not looked as good as other candidates, such as Mewelde Moore and Santonio Holmes. Because Drummond really plays no other position, he's not even a luxury the Steelers cannot afford.
Paul Ernster presented a nice case for winning the job as the Steelers' punter Saturday night. He punted four times, averaged 48.0 gross and 48.8 net because the Vikings returned only two of them for minus-3 yards. He also had three of his four punts inside the 20.
"I thought Paul Ernster did a nice job punting for us," coach Mike Tomlin said.
Ernster also kicked off three times in the second half and held on Jeff Reed's final three field goals -- Mitch Berger held on the first. Berger did not punt Saturday, but also has done a decent job with an average of 47.5 net and 42.0 on four punts, three of them inside the 20.
Willie Reid may have won himself the fifth spot at wide receiver Saturday over Dallas Baker. Reid got a lot of playing time, sometimes even when three or four receivers were used in the first half, and led the team with five receptions for 55 yards.
Two of his receptions came in crucial spots. On fourth-and-3 in the third quarter, he caught an 8-yard pass from Byron Leftwich and hung on as he was pushed out of bounds to keep a scoring drive going. In the fourth quarter, he made a diving catch over the middle from Leftwich for a 22-yard gain.
Baker caught three passes for 23 yards but he also had a big third-down drop.
Mewelde Moore looks good as a third-down back and return man, but Willie Parker also continues to play well on third downs and likely will get a chance to play some in those situations this year. Parker is not afraid to stick his nose into the chest of a blitzing linebacker and that's the No. 1 requirement of a third-down back who lines up next to the quarterback in the shotgun formation.
The punter is another tough decision for the coaches.