Final WR spot down to Reid, Baker
Friday, August 29, 2008
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In the end, it really won't matter that Limas Sweed, who almost had a great touchdown catch in the end zone, was wide open when he embarrassingly dropped a perfectly thrown pass from Byron Leftwich.
Sweed, a No. 2 draft choice from Texas, could drop an expensive vase in coach Mike Tomlin's home and still be guaranteed a spot on the 53-man roster.
The same cannot be said for Willie Reid, a former third-round pick. Nor for Dallas Baker. They are battling for the fifth wide-receiver spot with the Steelers, which becomes significant if there is an injury but has little impact on the outcome on any game.
It's not only because the Steelers hardly use a five-wide receiver formation. They already have a fifth receiver: tight end Heath Miller.
"You don't let it bother you," Reid said. "You just go out and play football."
"Honestly," Baker said. "I can't even tell you what will happen. I'm still wondering if I did enough to convince them."
Nonetheless, Reid and Baker each were vying last night to command the attention of Tomlin, who will determine their fates sometime in the next 24 to 36 hours.
The Steelers have until 6 p.m. tomorrow to reduce their roster to the mandatory 53 players, and this much is known: Reid and Baker will not be on the roster. Only one.
Eddie Drummond, a former Pro Bowl returner who also doubles as a wide receiver, has shown little as a return specialist to merit keeping him on the roster.
"My whole thing was to try and come out and make some plays this year," said Baker, who was on the practice squad last season. "I made some at the beginning. I wanted to make sure I made it harder for them to make a decision."
A week ago, it appeared Reid had secured his spot on the roster with a five-catch performance against Minnesota that included a diving 22-yard reception in the fourth quarter. It was easily his best showing since the Steelers drafted him in the third round in 2006.
Reid, of course, was not drafted to be a receiving threat, at least, not solely. His specialty was punt returns, something he did so well in college that he and Deion Sanders are the only players in Florida State history to amass more than 1,000 career yards on punt returns.
But since joining the Steelers, Reid has shown no evidence of that. What's more, since a sprained foot that ended his rookie season in Week 5, Reid seemed to lose the burst that made him such a dangerous, elusive returner, one who had 180 punt-return yards in the 2006 Orange Bowl against Penn State.
"I think it would have been a lot better if I played that first year," Reid said. "Since I didn't, I missed out on that experience. The big thing now is to catch up. You can learn all you want from a playbook. But you still have to go out and catch up."
Reid did little in last night's 19-16 victory against the Carolina Panthers, failing to catch a pass, returning a kickoff 26 yards and fair-catching a punt. Still, he finished the preseason as the team's leading receiver with nine catches.
But it wasn't so much what he didn't do as much as what Baker can do that could ultimately determine which player makes the team.
After dropping a pass last week against the Vikings, Baker acquitted himself, albeit modestly, with two catches for 35 yards against the Panthers -- the highlight being a 33-yarder over the middle to the Carolina 32, setting up the second of Jeff Reed's four field goals. Baker finished the preseason with eight catches for 115 yards -- second only to Reid -- and a 14.3-yard average.
But, when determining the makeup of their roster, if not their receiving corps, the Steelers like an intangible that Baker possesses, which Reid cannot provide: Baker is 6 feet 3, 210 pounds; Reid is 5-10, 192.
"I'm hoping it's a factor if it helps me make the team," Baker said. "But I don't think it matters. There are a lot of big guys. It's how you play on the field."
Gerry Dulac can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
First published on August 29, 2008 at 12:00 am
i vote Baker, he has not been around as long as Reid. i think Baker has a much higher ceiling if they are so even at this early point in Baker's career. Reid has been around longer so he should have that advantage... but its still pretty even.