Preseason games are good for a quarter. At least that's what the common football fan tells us. But the serious football fans want to see all the rookies. Here's the rundown on the Steelers' game tonight against the New Orleans Saints. Stay up late and catch them all.
Dallas Baker opened this past practice week by running under a long bomb from Charlie Batch, and Baker ended it going way up to high-point and catch a Hail Mary pass in the end zone from the same quarterback.
The defensive backs weren’t allowed to leap with the receivers as the Steelers practiced their desperation heaves, but it’s unlikely that anyone would’ve jumped with Baker, the 6-foot-3 rookie who gave his best Marques Colston imitation on the play.
Colston will play Sunday night for the New Orleans Saints after a rookie year in which he caught 70 passes for 1,038 yards. Like Baker, Colston was a seventh-round draft pick without much of a chance. But he’s turning heads lately.
“It’s coming together, but it’s still difficult,” said Baker. “You know how it is when you’re a rookie, really. It’s always difficult trying to adjust to a new offense.”
But scouts are saying Baker’s making the adjustment. They’re excited to see him continue his best week with the team tonight in Canton, Ohio. Comparisons to Fred Gibson are scoffed at. Both are big, but one wasn’t smart enough to understand the playbook, while Baker’s coming along.
“He’s doing well,” said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. “He wants to learn and he wants to be good. He’s making a lot of progress.”
Baker, No. 81, will be one of the interesting new names to watch tonight.
On defense, the busiest new name will be second-round draft pick LaMarr Woodley. Because of an injury to James Harrison, Woodley will replace Joey Porter in the front seven, but will line up on the left side. He’ll be wearing Porter’s No. 55.
Here’s a rundown of the other players who’ll make the second half more enjoyable for serious Steelers fans:
– Bryan Randall (5) has been with a couple of teams and hasn’t shown much accuracy in camp, but he’s an outstanding runner and that’s intriguing Winnipeg Blue Bombers GM Brendan Taman of the CFL. He’ll be scouting Randall tonight.
“He’s at a make-it-or-break-it stage and he’s a guy we like,” Taman told the Winnipeg Free Press on Saturday. Randall will either end up with Taman or become a member of the Steelers’ practice squad.
– Najeh Davenport will start, but the player to watch is 230-pounder Carey Davis (38). He’s a fullback/tailback/one-back who’s pushing Verron Haynes for the fourth spot in the backfield. The wildcard on the depth chart is No. 41, undrafted rookie Gary Russell, who does everything well but nothing spectacularly. Kevan Barlow sulked on the practice field Friday as if he’d been told he’s the mop-up back tonight.
– After Baker caught his Hail Mary on Friday, undrafted rookie Eric Fowler (82), the star of minicamp, dropped a Hail Mary that hit him in the belly. Fowler has slipped at camp, but has retained favorable status with the scouts. Another newcomer to watch is 5-8 veteran speedster Dan Sheldon (13). Rasheed Marshall (11), the former WVU QB, is coming off his first good week of camp. But, really, the top newcomer to watch is camp sensation Willie Reid (15), who was injured on his only play last season.
– Third-round pick Matt Spaeth (89) has locked up the No. 2 job. The battle for the third roster spot is said to be between Jerame Tuman and undrafted 6-8 rookie Cody Boyd (48). Jon Dekker (88) is making progress.
– Plenty of intrigue here, and most of it has been beaten to death by camp sportswriters. The undrafted player creating most of the camp buzz so far has been 6-9 left tackle Jason Capizzi (67) of IUP. The speed of the game will increase tonight, but even if Capizzi gets beat every now and then the staff can always consider the big man at right tackle.
– The sixth roster spot was Shaun Nua’s to lose, and he may have this week. Nua needs a good game to regain his status ahead of rookies Ryan McBean (95) and Derrick Jones (67). Both players are in the Steelers’ future plans.
– Woodley (55) will play much of the game. He’s a physical player who can rush the passer, but check his ability to drop into coverage. Another interesting rookie is inside linebacker Richard Koonce (46). He sat out a year after no one drafted him out of East Carolina. He stayed in shape, went to Europe and showed the Steelers the physical ability they’ve been hoping to see from Rian Wallace (54). Koonce is the guy with all the hair.
– Mike Lorello (45) of WVU is the No. 5 safety and the team has kept five in the past. He made a brilliant interception of Roethlisberger in the end zone on Friday. Anthony Smith (27) is always good for one blown up receiver, and he’ll be in a particularly nasty mood coming off the bench. Fifth-round draft pick William Gay (22) doesn’t run well in the 40, but it’s become obvious at camp that he carries his pads well. He’s moved steadily up the depth chart and may even be pushing Ricardo Colclough for a job on the dime defense.
– Dan Sepulveda (9) said his leg is feeling better, so look for some rockets off his left foot. Also watch for the “Aussie Roll,” or backwards spin on his pooch punts.
5 August 2007