Steelers-Lions Preview

Steelers head coach Bill Cowher usually only plays his starters for about a quarter in the team's preseason opener. But when the Steelers open their preseason schedule tomorrow in Detroit, Cowher will have a handful of starters – or at least players fighting for starting jobs – playing a lot less than planned.

Right guard Kendall Simmons, running back Amos Zereoue, and tackle Todd Fordham won't play when the Steelers play the Lions, which will give more young players – and specifically rookie free agents just hoping to win a spot somewhere – an opportunity to show their stuff in game conditions.

One player Cowher is anxious to see is free agent rookie running back Dante Brown, who has opened eyes at training camp, showing good quickness hitting the hole.

"This kid has shown some toughness, some speed," Cowher said. "He has been able to hit holes. I keep saying what is the hole in this guy? Why was he a free agent? You look at these guys. Some of the free agents who may be fighting uphill battles and these are the games that are important. The preseason games give guys like that a time to shine."

Because of the injury to Zereoue, who is battling Jerome Bettis for the team's starting running back spot, Brown, who played collegiately at Memphis, may get some extra playing time.

Another player who could take advantage of an injury to get more playing time is rookie free agent cornerback Nashville Dyer. Hank Poteat has not practiced in more than a week because of a sprained shoulder and won't play against the Lions. Dyer, meanwhile, has played well at training camp.

"My only goal has been to prove I can play in this league," said Dyer, a Kent State product. "I'd love for things to work out here because this is where I'm starting out, but if it doesn't work out here, I'd like to show enough that somebody else will give me a shot."

The first couple of preseason games are usually the most important ones for the undrafted rookie free agents. Because the team has a financial investment in its draft choices – a signing bonus – more often than not, they get the benefit of the doubt when compared to a rookie free agent. Considered too small, to slow, or not talented enough to be drafted, the rookie free agents are the bottom feeders on an NFL roster, fighting for scraps of playing time and plays in practice.

The lucky ones who have shown the coaching staff something during practice will see at least a quarter of action against the Lions. The ones who are not so lucky will at least get the opportunity to stand on an NFL sideline in uniform.

"You just want a chance," said Dyer, who is 5-10, 180 pounds. "I don't know why I wasn't drafted. That's something only the coaches and scouts around the league know. I had a good career at Kent. But maybe I was too small or something. You see guys drafted from small schools now, but they're all 6-2. A guy who's my size but played at a big school, they say he's small, but he's been tested. We played Marshall every year and Ohio State last season. I played against a lot of good players."

One player Dyer won't get a shot at today is Lions' rookie Charles Rogers, the second pick in this year's draft. Rogers is nursing a hand injury and won't play for the Lions, who will be playing their first game under new head coach Steve Mariucci.

Odds and end zones
This is the 16th preseason meeting between the Lions and Steelers and Detroit leads the series 8-7. ... The Steelers have four former Lions on their roster, quarterback Charlie Batch, center Jeff Hartings, linebacker Klint Kreiwaldt, and cornerback Chidi Iwuoma. ... Former Steelers linebacker Earl Holmes signed with the Lions as a free agent after being released by Cleveland during the offseason.

Dale Lolley

Steel City Insider Top Stories