The pre-season is upon us. It is the time of year when everyone makes too big a of a deal about games that mean nothing. Wait! Allow me to clarify my statement. When I say that the games "mean nothing," I am referring to the final score. Wins and losses are irrelevant. For example, during last preseason, the Steelers' first-team offense did not score a touchdown, and Ben Roethlisberger could not hit the side of a barn (16-of-36 for 146 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions). Yet, the Steelers went on to win the Super Bowl.
Similarly, statistics can be slanted in these games. For example, Willie Parker played for nary a snap in one of the games last year. Yet, stats-geeks pointed out that Noah Herron had better numbers than Fast Willie. Oy!
Simply, in the pre-season, coaches avoid any risk of injury to their star players by not playing them, because generally, those players have already established themselves as starters. Does anyone really think that Hines Ward is at risk of being benched for the rest of the season because Sean Morey might have more yards than Ward at the conclusion of this pre-season?
Still, the preseason is indeed important because of the position battles. Well, actually, the second and third quarters are important.
As we already know, the first quarter rarely displays anything, because most teams are running basic offenses and vanilla defenses. Similarly, the fourth quarter is practice-squad scrubs versus punt-coverage hopefuls. But, during the middle two quarters of the preseason games, the excitement occurs. So, while guzzling down a pitcher of Rolling Rock and eating a Roethlis-burger, keep an eye on the following position battles.
1) Free Safety
Tyrone Carter is all heart. He is smaller and slower than ideal, but his attitude makes him a winner. He has experience with Pittsburgh's defense, which gives him a leg up over the other two candidates.
Ryan Clark has several years experience at free safety and the smarts that comes with it. But, my question is: how much better does he know the Pittsburgh playbook that Anthony Smith? They both are in their first year with the Steelers...right?
Anthony Smith has more athleticism and talent than Ryan Clark and Tyrone Carter combined. Once Anthony learns most of the plays and is able to make the play-calls, the job is his. While Clark and Carter currently have an advantage over Smith due to their experience, Anthony's sheer talent makes him my favorite to win the starting position...if not by the first game, by mid-season.
2) Split End
Willie Reid is fast, fast, fast. The nickname "Fast" Willie is already taken, so how about "Fast-er" Willie? In his first game, this kid had some nice grabs, displaying soft hands. Considering his ability to get open and his potential to "take it the distance" on every single play, I think we have ourselves a starter. Alas, Hines Ward road the pine for three years behind two first round picks, because of Cowher's infatuation with "having" to play his first rounders. Still, Willie Reid is my choice to start.
Santonio Holmes gets open. He is big and fast. And, most importantly, after the catch, he takes an immediate step upfield, instead of falling down like Plaxico or going backwards like Randle El. In other words, a five yard throw is generally turned into an eight yard reception. Still, I need to see less drops from him, in order to call him the starter.