Friday, August 17, 2007
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The first teams will play longer tomorrow night in Washington against the Redskins, a normal progression as the Steelers go deeper into the preseason.
"Tentatively we're going to play our first groups a lot longer than what we've done at this point," coach Mike Tomlin said. "But, like always, we're going to be prepared to play it by ear. But it's our intention to play guys more in this game."
Halfback Willie Parker and outside linebacker James Harrison will play for the first time this summer after shaking off minor injuries.
Tomlin still has many decisions to make, from picking starters to choosing backups.
Yesterday, perhaps, a few of those decisions became clearer. For one, Deshea Townsend returned to the first team at right cornerback, after Bryant McFadden spent a couple of practices there while Townsend played safety.
Also, Willie Colon continued to run as the first-team right tackle while Trai Essex ran with the first team at left tackle. Starting left tackle Marvel Smith has a back injury; he dressed but was limited in practice.
Tomlin yesterday gave some insight on some of the decisions facing him:
"When it comes down to those last three or four guys, position is not a factor," he said of his 53-man roster. "It's team guys, guys that make your football team better. Whether that makes it five wideouts or six wideouts, or five backs or six backs, you've got to be willing to step outside the box and look at what makes your team strong. We will do that. We have a general idea about numbers, but we're not married to it by any stretch."
On McFadden: "I think that he's had a solid camp, whether we run him with the first group or the second group. He's just continuing to grow. He's a young guy who has some talent, has made some plays for this football team. It's not like he's green."
On his plans for rookie running back Gary Russell, who leads the team in rushing with 97 yards on 17 carries after two games: "He's kind of shown what he's capable of from a ball-carrier's standpoint. We want to see if he can show what he's capable of in some other areas -- pass protection and so forth, see if he can participate in the passing game a little bit. He's a sharp, young guy, a competitor, but the job description is you have to be a complete back. We want to see what he can do when the ball is not his hands."
On Essex, who will get a shot to be the swing man as a backup tackle and guard: "He's a developing player. And really, he's at this point in his career where he needs to be a developing player. And we've had frank discussions about that, he and I, and I think he's answering the call."
On Marvin Philip, who is behind Sean Mahan and Chukky Okobi at center: "Marvin has done some good things. Marvin has got to do a little better from an assignment standpoint. ... He's got to play at a higher level from that standpoint if he wants to get into that conversation with the other two."
On wide receiver Walter Young's chances of making it in his fourth training camp with the Steelers: "He's on the brink, as are a lot of other guys. That's a good problem to have. You love the competition. You love guys that are fighting, particularly a guy like him who has been close a couple of times, played a little ball in this league and is looking for a breakthrough.
"I was joking with Carey Davis this morning. He said this is his fourth training camp. You've got to have respect for men who've been denied multiple times and they still come back. They still have that fire in their eye trying to get it done. I like those guys. You root for those guys from a humanistic standpoint. But the reality is that we have to keep the best 53. But Walter is on the brink."
On wide receiver Nate Washington and his dropped passes: "I think that's a to-be-continued answer to that. I like the way he comes to work. He's got to do better from a concentration standpoint. He understands that. He's a very capable guy, a talented guy. But time will tell. His cumulative body of work will tell how he responds to that. That's a small bump in the road. The guy dropped two footballs in the first preseason game. I hope he's not losing sleep over that. If he is, then we probably have got a problem. But he doesn't lack confidence, no."
On Brian St. Pierre and whether he will keep three quarterbacks: "Brian has done some good things. Some teams keep two quarterbacks, some keep three. It really boils down to that same discussion we were just having and what you feel makes your team strong. We're monitoring that, of course. We're considering all of the options. Personally, what Brian has done to this point has not been disappointing. I think he's done some good things."
Anthony Smith (abdomen) did not practice and Ryan Clark continued to run at free safety with the first team and probably will start against his old team, the Redskins, tomorrow. Clark may well be holding off Smith's attempt to unseat him.