LATROBE - There's more to the game in the defensive secondary than bone-jarring hits, rough-and-rugged coverage and general playmaking ability.
There has to be. How else to explain the second-team status of Anthony Smith and Bryant McFadden?
Once again, the two physical defensive backs will start the preseason on the bench and will watch Ryan Clark at free safety and Deshea Townsend at right cornerback in the first quarter of Sunday's Hall of Fame Game.
Those are the two defensive positions up for grabs once again this season. But even though the coach has changed, the older veterans have kept their grasp on the starting positions.
"It's not necessarily about what they are potentially capable of," Coach Mike Tomlin explained. "It's about what they are on a day-to-day basis. These guys (Townsend and Clark) are extremely consistent. They're very smart. They're very competent. You know what you're going to get from them. That's very attractive. They're rock-solid guys. They don't ride the emotional roller coaster. There's not a roller coaster in terms of their level of play. You know what you're getting. From a coach's standpoint, that's very attractive, particularly from a secondary coach's perspective."
Of course, all is not lost for Smith and McFadden. The former first-day draft picks are expected to run with the first team in alternating preseason games, just as they have in practice.
"Those guys are competing," Tomlin said. "They're well aware of that, but again a lot of those decisions as we move forward will be based on performance. So there's potential for that, but we'll see."
Return man and his blocker
A recent development in NFL return games has been the use of one quick return man and a blocking back deep.
That's the way the Steelers will line up Sunday. Willie Reid, one of the most impressive young players at camp, will return both punts and kickoffs. He'll be joined on kickoffs by Najeh Davenport or Carey Davis. Rookie Gary Russell also will fit into the role later in the game.
"Essentially there's one deep," Tomlin said. "There's another guy back there, but you don't want him to get the ball. You just want him to lead the way. There's one and a half, if you will, in terms of guys deep."
It's unlikely that Santonio Holmes will return kicks. He'll have enough on his plate as a receiver.
"It really depends on his level of conditioning," Tomlin said. "We'd like to give him a lot of work, but not at the expense of a potential health risk because of a lack of conditioning. He's going to be one of those guys who we'll evaluate as we go and see where he's at."
Snelly and Goo
Look for plenty of Arnold "Snelly" Harrison and Rian "Goo" Wallace on the field Sunday night. Because of injuries, both players will work at both inside and outside linebacker.
"You give them multiple positions so you're not handcuffed by position needs when you're filling out your roster," Tomlin said. "They're trying to find a seat on the bus and they're willing to do whatever it is to do that."
Late Friday notes
Center Sean Mahan left St. Vincent College for personal reasons Friday and is not expected to play in Sunday's game. He's expected to return next week to practice and will likely receive some first-team reps. ... The Steelers released linebacker Derek Rehage.