What to Watch for in Pittsburgh


Preseason Game 1: Saturday August 14, 2010, 7:30 PM
Detroit Lions at Pittsburgh Steelers

What takes place on the field Saturday night won’t ultimately decide the fate of the Lions season, but that hasn’t lead to tempered enthusiasm from fans or players. As expected, rookie Ndamukong Suh is ready to get under the lights. He was quoted in the Detroit Free Press as saying:

"“Definitely excited, I don’t really consider it an exhibition game. It’s live bullets. Everybody’s playing hard. Everybody’s fighting for a spot. So it’s just my first opportunity to go against somebody else other than my teammates and prove what I can do for this defense."

No one should expect to see the kind of dominating performance that Suh put on at the Big XII Championship Game against the Texas Longhorns but many eyes will be focused on number 90 to see what kind of impact he can have. Just a flash or two of brilliance will show that Ndamukong Suh has already adjusted to life in the NFL.

Kyle Vanden Bosch is a known quantity and will have no problem holding down his defensive end position. Cliff Avril, however, remains a bit of an enigma. Tim Twentyman of the Detroit News wrote a good piece about the bond that Avril has developed with defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham. The two seem to understand each other now and Cunningham is expecting a big year out of Avril. We shall see if the common ground starts paying dividends on Saturday.

Undrafted free agent rookie Randy Phillips may get the start with Louis Delmas resting his groin. Phillips went undrafted out of Miami (FL) because of injuries but has played well enough in Lions camp to put himself in position for some serious playing time, even when Delmas returns. His rise up the depth chart might allow him to supplant C.C. Brown, who earned the nickname “Can’t Cover” last year with the Giants. Brown is a big hitter but the man with the best skill set overall will win the job. It isn’t often that we have the chance to see a position battle play out with both guys on the field but it looks like we will have that opportunity tomorrow.

Things on the offensive side of the ball are much more settled. The closest thing to a position battle is at right tackle between Gosder Cherilus and Jon Jansen. Cherilus has the advantage of youth and the Lions have made a bigger investment in him as a former first round draft choice. Jansen brings experience and but offers limited upside and it remains to be seen if he can still handle the rigors of a full NFL season. This battle would be over rather quickly if not for inconsistency from Cherilus that drives the coaching staff crazy. He has all the physical tools necessary to excel but lacks the mental toughness to put it all together. Fortunately, the Heinz field grass will be dandelion free, one less distraction for Gosder to worry about.

The offensive personnel may be pretty well set but much remains to be seen as to how the unit will perform. The quarter or so of playing time that the first team will see may not be enough to tell how the addition of Nate Burleson and Tony Scheffler change the way defenses play Calvin Johnson but Matthew Stafford will have plenty of opportunities to showcase his grasp of the playbook and spread the ball around. Look for his passes to be crisp and precise. Reports out of camp indicate that Stafford’s accuracy is greatly increased over last year, let’s hope that is true.

The Steelers have had a tumultuous offseason. Ben Roethlisberger will serve a minimum suspension of four games to start the regular season and may not face the Lions in the preseason opener. For a glimpse into the world of Pittsburgh Steelers football check out Nice Pick, Cowher.

All photos courtesy of YardBarker.com