Short Stories

The Steelers play the Washington Redskins tonight in their second preseason game. These three short stories from the opener are the method of preview:

As a form of previewing tonight's Steelers-Redskins preseason game in Washington, let's review some of the oft-discussed aspects of Steelers football coming out of the preseason opener:


Calling it beef would be too kind to the downright fat offensive linemen whom Steelers fans had become accustomed to seeing the last couple of years.

Gone are Max Starks, Trai Essex and Willie Colon, three of the 350-pound club members, and Ramon Foster, who replaced another 350-pounder, Chris Kemoeatu, last year, is in the best shape of his pro career at 325.

The new tackles, Mike Adams (323) and Marcus Gilbert (330), are tall and muscular and fit. David DeCastro is a 316-pound move guard who's said to be the strongest of them all in the weight room.

The only starting lineman to add weight since last season is center Maurkice Pouncey, who used to brag about being able to play at 285 pounds but who finally had a rehab-free summer and was able to add close to 20 pounds. He said he loves his new-found strength.

The new sixth man, Kelvin Beachum, is a still-too-small 306 pounds.

Drafting new players such as DeCastro, Adams and Beachum last year helped the transition to a leaner and more mobile line, and Foster wanted to be a part of it.

"We want to be an outside zone offense," said Foster. "We've got to be able to run, and you run with smaller guys. That was one of the main focuses right there: trim down, make it look good. Even if you don't lose wait, trim, change, change your body around."

Was there a memo?

"Coach (Todd) Haley asked for it; coach Jack (Bicknell) asked for it," Foster said. "They did that right before we broke the last minicamp, but guys were already working. It was just an emphasis that we're going to make this outside zone work, and how to do it was with quicker linemen."


With Le'Veon Bell and Isaac Redman not expected to play, the Steelers will take long, hard looks at Jonathan Dwyer and Baron Batch tonight because the other tailback -- LaRod Stephens-Howling -- put a hammerlock on his position with his performance in the opener.

Stephens-Howling, the 5-foot-7, 185-pounder out of the University of Pittsburgh and Greater Johnstown High, didn't start last week but entered the game on the fourth play and ended up leading all rushers with 40 yards on 7 carries.

"It felt good to get back into Heinz Field and put some good things on tape," said Stephens-Howling, who said his best game at Heinz Field was in 2007 when he rushed for 100 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown in Pitt's upset of then-No. 23 Cincinnati.

While Stephens-Howling isn't a contender for the starting Steelers tailback job -- at least when the bigger backs are healthy -- he's a dangerous receiver and coach Mike Tomlin knows it.

In a recent backers-covering-backs drill, Tomlin intentionally matched Stephens-Howling with his best coverage linebacker, Lawrence Timmons, who foolishly attempted to make a kill shot of Stephens-Howling in the flat. But Stephens-Howling put a move on Timmons, who went sprawling as the coaches laughed on the sideline.

In the next match-up, Stephens-Howling cut out and easily gained separation from Timmons to catch a pass. He turned it up the field as the whistle blew to end the session. The coaches, including Tomlin, were clearly pleased with Stephens-Howling.

"I'm just trying to make him better," Stephens-Howling said of Timmons. "When the role's reversed, and it's pass protection, backs on backers, I'm trying to find out how I can get better. Everybody has their things they need to work on. Route running happens to be one of the crafts I'm comfortable with."

Stephens-Howling is also quite comfortable returning kickoffs, which he'll do tonight against the Redskins.


Rookie quarterback Landry Jones couldn't have gotten off to a worse professional start. he entered last week's game in the third quarter, and on the first snap he slammed into Batch, the running back, while trying to hand him the ball. Jones instead fumbled in the end zone, fell on it, and was tackled for a safety.

Jones completed 5 of 9 passes for 48 yards but is coming off of his best week of practice with the Steelers yet.

"I think this past week he's been coming along great," said quarterback Bruce Gradkowski. "I think Landry has the right attitude, the right work ethic. He has the talent, so it's good to see him come out here and continue to get better. He's a big, strong guy who throws the ball well."

The Steelers made it known this week that they intend to keep three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, and unless they are surprised by a quality quarterback on the waiver wire they intend to keep three they already have. That means Jones and John Parker Wilson are competing for the No. 3 job, with Jones the frontrunner because Tomlin will exhause all patience before cutting a fourth-round draft pick.

"No question," Gradkowski said. "I learned about patience with Jon Gruden in Tampa. It's definitely a process."

Gradkowski was Gruden's sixth-round pick in 2006 and became the Bucs' starting quarterback in Week 5. He started 11 games as a rookie, but warned that "Everyone's different. You just have to continue to learn the offense. The more comfortable you get to learn the offense the better you'll play."

Jones is scheduled to take the fourth-quarter snaps for the Steelers tonight in his rotation with Wilson.

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