Medal Stand: DeCastro Golden

Did David DeCastro win a starting job last night? It sure looked that way to Jim Wexell. Here's his rundown of DeCastro's night as well as the rest of the Steelers' standouts.

The Steelers dominated the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night, but came up a 24-23 loser when the second and third teams couldn't hold a 13-0 halftime lead.

Such is life in NFL preseason games, when even the post-game quotes are intolerable – except for one. Here's how Steelers safety Ryan Clark described his game:

"I did absolutely nothing. I played three plays. I played free safety and I didn't get to touch anybody, which is not totally a bad thing. But the things you look for are the new additions to the team."

Exactly. And with that in mind, here's how the Pittsburgh medal count stands after the first exhibition, with the newcomers foremost in mind:

GOLD MEDALS

David DeCastroDid the first-round pick win a starting job last night filling in for Willie Colon? Well, only the coaches know if he carried out his assignments, but from my seat the answer is an unequivocal "Yes."

DeCastro played right guard for 34 snaps and his man only made a tackle once, and that came after Isaac Redman couldn't find room outside and cut back into Fletcher Cox. Otherwise, DeCastro had a seemingly perfect night blocking Cullen Jenkins, Cox (the Eagles' first-round pick), and Antonio Dixon. If the coaches want to stretch to find a mistake (other than any possible assignment miscues), they could point to the sack by Brandon Graham in which DeCastro, in attempting to help RT Trai Essex, appeared to push Graham off of Essex's block.

DeCastro showed his mobility on the first play when he got out in front of a screen with Maurkice Pouncey and blocked a linebacker for Redman. Perhaps the Steelers were making a point with that play in that it will be a feature this season with those two mobile interior linemen. Soon thereafter, DeCastro trapped a DT to open the hole for Redman's 5-yard gain. Later in the series, on fourth-and-1, DeCastro was clearly the low man in the scrum, and on the next play he pushed linebacker Mychal Kendricks clear off the TV screen for Redman's 4-yard run. DeCastro also made the key block of the night when he washed Cox completely out of the interior to open a gaping hole through which Jonathan Dwyer galloped 33 yards to set up the Steelers' first-half touchdown.

Emmanuel SandersStarting at split end for holdout Mike Wallace, Sanders was wide open for the 3-yard touchdown pass from Byron Leftwich. Sanders had helped get the ball down there, too, with his downfield blocking during Dwyer's long run. Sanders also converted a third-and-11 situation with a 17-yard catch that should've gone for more had the official not erroneously called him out of bounds.

Steve McLendonWith help from the bookend pressure by Chris Carter and Larry Foote, McLendon sacked Michael Vick when Vick tried to evade the outside rushers and run up the middle. McLendon also tackled Dion Lewis for a 1-yard loss. Overall, McLendon showed the coaches that his strength is attacking as a nickel tackle in passing situations and that he'll do fine as a defensive end when needed.

Chris RaineyListed by the Steelers at 178 pounds, Rainey can frustrate when tackled short of the sticks, as he was on a third-and-8 pass early. But the running back did gain 14 on a third-and-13 draw by breaking a linebacker's tackle at the line, and then he made the biggest play of the second half by taking a slip screen 53 yards for a touchdown by breaking a tackle at the line and another one at the 5-yard line.

SILVER MEDALS

Chris Carter – The fill-in for James Harrison showed that his camp speed hasn't been a fluke by getting out of the blocks and running easily past the Eagles' left tackle on the first play of the game. On the second play, Carter stood up a tight end and allowed Foote to make a tackle on a sweep. In the third series, Carter pressured QB Mike Kafka while being held, which was called.

Jonathan Dwyer – Not only did Dwyer have the Steelers' longest run to set up a touchdown, he flashed some speed outside on his first carry for 7 yards. That play appeared to show more contact with his injured shoulder than did the long run that sent Dwyer to the showers later in the half.

Al WoodsWith Brett Keisel excused because of the birth of his third child the previous day, Woods entered in the second series (Steelers used nickel in the first) and appeared more stout in the Steelers' traditional 3-4 DL scheme than linemates McClendon and Corbin Bryant. Of course, Woods made the defensive play of the game when he read a screen pass, intercepted it, and not only returned it 53 yards but put the ball in the other hand to brace for contact that was coming from behind.

Brandon JohnsonThe late-spring free-agent pickup from Cincinnati can be blocked easily, but getting to him was difficult for the Eagles last night. The 6-6 outside linebacker pressured Kafka into Woods' interception, and also came up quickly to shut down a swing pass to LeSean McCoy in the open field for a 3-yard loss. Johnson also broke up a short pass in the flat during the Eagles' 2-minute drill at the end of the first half.

BRONZE MEDALS

David JohnsonWhen the TV game announcer stated that Johnson has had a "killer camp," I muted the rest of the tape, and that was enough for Johnson to medal in this game. I'll also give Johnson credit for catching a couple of passes early in the game, but mainly I just feel bad for anyone who suffers a season-ending injury on the first series of the first preseason game. Will Johnson made some encouraging blocks as Johnson's replacement at fullback.

Sean SpenceThe rookie outpointed Foote and Sylvester – two other very active inside linebackers – to grab the medal. Appearing as early as the second series, the third-round pick smothered the tight end on a third-and-8 pass that was overthrown. In the third series, Spence was blocked to the ground on a 12-yard run, but bounced back with stout interior play throughout the rest of the game. His open-field tackle during the 2-minute drill was a highlight, as was his blitz on the first series of the second half that forced an incompletion and a punt. The kid's a natural football player.

Adrian RobinsonThis undrafted rookie OLB was in the face of Philly's backup quarterbacks throughout the entire second half. Had he been on the field and done it against the starters in the first half, he'd have won a gold medal.

Robert GoldenThe cornerback-turned-safety played special teams early, but didn't take part in an on-field snap until the fourth quarter, and he then showed the closing burst and willingness to hit in the run game that the coaching staff was hoping to see. Golden's range in the passing game is obvious, but this undrafted rookie will need time to learn the game in the deep patrol. He appears to be a gem in the making.


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