Clinches Spot As Starter:
* Doug Legursky played a near flawless first quarter and looked confident doing so. He's still a natural center and too short for my tastes against the likes of Haloti Ngata, but he's the best they've got. (And that's why they wanted Mike Pouncey.)
* Shaun Suisham wasn't really being pushed by Swayze Waters, but Suisham showed he can kick 'em out of the end zone and bang home 50-plus yarders – at least at one end of the Carolina field. Was the wind blowing? Don't know. Gamebooks for some reason weren't available on-line.
* David Johnson also had his starting job wrapped up whether he played well in Carolina or not, but it must be noted he's playing as well as he ever has as an in-line blocker and is becoming a pass-catcher of sorts. He was also alert enough to jump on Mike Wallace's fumble at the goal line.
Secured Prominent Role:
* Charlie Batch was his old self. He was confident, accurate and led the team. He also overthrew Wallace on one deep pass, so he can still keep a defense honest.
* Isaac Redman has grown so much in the eyes of Tomlin. I still remember that first camp when Tomlin walked past a couple of us interviewing Redman. "Another interview? All I'd want to know from that guy is ‘Who are you?'" Tomlin also ripped Redman for being out of shape that camp, but Tomlin kept him and now gets him out of preseason games as quickly as possible.
* Larry Foote had another strong game, replete with a near sack of Cam Newton (in the grasp?) and a special-teams blowup. With Lawrence Timmons and Stevenson Sylvester NOT being taught the nuances of the playcalling buck ILB spot, Foote will be around for a few more years. He showed this preseason that he's still got it.
* Chris Hoke played well into the fourth quarter, but he sure didn't act as if he's above it. They keep trying to get rid of this backup nose tackle, but, like Legursky, Hoke was flawless and confident. That instill confidence in the decision-makers.
* Arnaz Battle caught four passes and had a fifth, a 3rd-and-3 conversion, taken away by penalty. He also should've drawn a pass interference penalty on the next play (Tyler Grisham argued with the ref on behalf of Battle, a player who's taking Grisham's dream from him. That says something about Grisham.)
* Jason Worilds played more snaps than anyone. He showed his burst on an untouched blitz up the middle, and he applies heat every now and then, but we all want to see more, more, more, particularly with James Harrison hurting (and Chris Carter, too). Remember, though, Harrison was cut three times by the end of his second season, so there's plenty of time for the second-year Worilds, who has a better natural burst, size and more polish than the young Harrison, just not near the strength.
* Emmanuel Sanders gained ground on Antonio Brown. Sanders caught four passes for 60 yards, the most impressive a 33-yarder down the sideline after breaking a tackle. Sanders also made a key block on Jonathan Dwyer's 50-yard touchdown run. Brown's contribution to that play was a celebration penalty in the end zone.
Pushed Way On To Roster
* Steve McLendon outplayed Hoke, but my roster would have both of them on it because McLendon also outplayed fifth DE Corbin Bryant. For the second consecutive week McLendon sacked the quarterback, but this time it was not a wide-open freebie. He beat his man on a twist inside with Bryant. McLendon also pressured the QB up into Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith's sack, and was seen 20 yards downfield diving (and whiffing) at a runaway back. McLendon played some DE, too, for those trying to think along with Tomlin.
* Cortez Allen was never really in danger, but he did have to play without embarrassment in his lone preseason appearance. He did. In fact, he played great. This 6-1 cover man will presumably sit out the rest of the season with his rookie-from-a-small-college redshirt, but fans will be calling for him because of his play last night.
Didn't Lose Job
* Curtis Brown, the third-round pick, was thrown at four times and broke up two of them. He allowed one completion, a big 45-yarder to Brandon LaFell. Brown made the shoestring tackle inside the 5 and the Steelers held for a field goal. Brown also got off two blocks to break up run plays to his side as he wasn't blocked successfully.
* Jonathan Dwyer had his best preseason game, but hope that was a flak jacket under his jersey and not some extended ice cream binge. Dwyer showed vision on his 50-yard TD run and broke a tackle in the backfield for another gain. He did a solid job in blitz pick-up and also made a special-teams tackle. Just don't let it go to your head – or stomach – Jon.
Solid But Still Battling Numbers
* Keenan Lewis played with much more confidence, a sign that increased reps are paying off. However, he didn't get much work as Carolina threw mainly at William Gay. Lewis also showed his physical Pittsburgh-CB street cred by popping Jonathan Stewart at the sideline.
* Crezdon Butler returned kicks and punts Thursday, which tells us Tomlin noticed that burst of speed during the 95-yard interception last week. Butler also made a jarring special-teams tackle, but was beat deep in man coverage for a touchdown by David Clowney.
Longshots Put Best Foot Forward
* Weslye Saunders caught three passes for 32 yards including a 15-yard touchdown pass over the middle on a Dennis Dixon rollout. Saunders did a great acting job on an early middle screen reception and made a touch catch over the middle in traffic. He's a willing blocker, but not as proficient or confident as veteran John Gilmore, and that might be the problem because the No. 3 TE will play right away.
* Donovan Warren has been a revelation. Last night he was targeted six times, including the final three Carolina passes of the game from the 9-yard line. He didn't allow anything there. In fact he allowed only one catch – for 0 yards –earlier in the game. Warren broke up two passes as he played the inside CB position so well that cutting Gay becomes a possibility.
* Mortty Ivy outplayed Mario "Thumper" Harvey if a spot on the practice squad was indeed on the line. Ivy made nine tackles, broke up a checkdown pass, and in the fourth quarter on back-to-back plays he pressured the QB and then sacked him.
* Corbin Bryant at times outplayed first-round pick Cameron Heyward at DE as the two lined up as bookends in the fourth quarter. But Bryant doesn't have the physical potential Heyward possesses. If Bryant is released, claimed, and can't make it back to the practice squad, the Steelers will wince a bit, but they won't cry.
* John Clay had his best performance with the team. The big guy showed nifty, Bettis-like feet in the hole as he gained 30 yards on 7 carries. He had a 22-yard run called back because of a holding penalty that had nothing to do with his run. A practice-squad lock after this game.
* Wes Lyons went deep and looked over his right shoulder, but the ball wasn't there, so he looked over his left shoulder and dove to make the 38-yard catch. That kind of skill on a 6-foot-8 frame has to be a lock for the practice squad.