(AP) PITTSBURGH This is as close to regular season conditions as the NFL can offer up in August, so the Eagles and Steelers may be able to get a good idea of what their seasons will bring simply by watching the line of scrimmage Sunday night.
Seven on five. Philadelphia's defensive front seven vs. Pittsburgh's five offensive line starters.
The Steelers, who may play their regulars into the third quarter for the only time during their five exhibition games, normally settle on their starting offensive line by, oh, late March.
It is very unsettled right now, though this game may bring some answers.
"We're going to keep the competition hot and we'll make those decisions after this football game," new coach Mike Tomlin said.
Decisions his players clearly want made.
Ben Roethlisberger, sacked twice as much during an 8-8 season a year ago than he was during their Super Bowl-winning season of the year before, wants to know which center will be giving him snaps, Sean Mahan or Chukky Okobi.
Willie Parker, coming off a 1,494-yard season, wants to know if he'll be running behind Willie Colon or Max Starks at right tackle.
The Steelers play only once more after Sunday until their Sept. 9 opener at Cleveland, but it's unlikely their regulars will go more than a series or two Thursday at Carolina.
"It's our last shot to get some good work in," All-Pro left guard Alan Faneca said of Sunday night's game. "We won't do a whole lot the last game. This is like our last shot to get some game prep, go through the rigors of a game and have to adjust to things.
The Steelers even did some game-planning, something they normally don't do in the preseason.
"Things are a little different this week," Tomlin said. "We've broken camp, we've got a simulated game week here where we are game-planning for an opponent to a degree."
The Eagles are doing much more adjusting on defense than they planned, one reason why their match up against Pittsburgh's consistently strong offensive line takes on such importance.
Coach Andy Reid sent shock waves through his locker room Tuesday by releasing four-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter.
The move left Jevon Kearse as the only remaining starter from the front seven that went to the Super Bowl three seasons ago – and left Reid's own players openly questioning the unexpected move.
"He still looked like he could play the game," Brian Westbrook said. "He was still making plays, causing disruptions, calling out all of our plays on the defense. He still looked very good."
Quarterback Donovan McNabb was more outspoken, saying the decision "will probably take days for us to get over, days or weeks."
The problem is there aren't that many days left until that Sept. 9 opener at Green Bay. That's why Reid plans to play his starters at least a half and possibly into the third quarter, though McNabb won't go more than a half.
With Takeo Spikes the only linebacker with more than minimal game experience, there will be considerable pressure on Omar Gaither, a 2006 fifth-round draft pick, Matt McCoy and first-time starter Chris Gocong to prove they can put pressure what usually is one of the NFL's best offensive lines.
NFL players normally dislike waiting until Sunday to play a preseason game, but this was one week Reid welcomed such a wait. If only to possibly quiet his own locker room.
"Actually, this is kind of our dress rehearsal for the season and it falls perfect," Reid said. "... This works out great. So we can literally have a dress rehearsal before we play our first game."
Tomlin played his starters a little longer than expected last weekend in Washington, until halftime, but wasn't rewarded with much offense in a 12-9 victory achieved by four field goals.
The last two weeks, the Steelers have produced only one touchdown, by their backups, and 21 points.
"I think there's been a widespread panic from the media and fans about the first offense,” Roethlisberger said. "I was actually talking with (offensive coordinator) Bruce Arians about it. We feel pretty good with where we're at as an offense right now."
They'll be looking for more of that offense against the Eagles, especially because Roethlisberger, Parker, Faneca and the other starters will spend about 58 minutes or so - on the bench at Carolina.
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