Positional Battles May Be Key vs. Lions

<b>PITTSBURGH -</B> Despite the recent rash of injuries, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher sounded somewhat optimistic about a number of players and their camp performances. Save the walking wounded, you might think that paring down the roster to the final 53 would be a tough job. Realistically, there are just a few position battles worth watching during the preseason games.

Bill Cowher had plenty of good things to say about Chris Hope and Troy Polamalu. He seemed pleased overall with the secondary and we should get a good look at the up-and-coming players in the game against Detroit.

"We'll get a chance to see these young corners play and it will be good for us to do that. And the two safeties, Troy has had a very good camp and so has Chris," said Cowher about his secondary of the future.

Still, we fans won't get to see all that much of the first team on defense or offense. The preseason games are more about rounding out the depth chart and hoping your starters don't get injured.

Here are some roster predictions for the defense going into the first preseason game.

Camp word on CB Terry Fair is pretty bleak. There are some decent words for Willie Williams, but he's definitely lost a step, or two. Chidi Iwuoma is a lock.

CBs: Chad Scott, Deshea Townsend, Ike Taylor, Ricardo Colclough, Iwuoma, and Williams

Safeties: Troy Polamalu, Chris Hope, Mike Logan, and Ainsley Battles or Russell Stuvaints

Williams makes it as the 6th CB because he could do spot duty at FS if need be and has the experience Cowher and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau covet. Janssen Patton or Shane Walton, Nashville Dyer are fodder for the practice squad at this point. Stuvaints could also end up on the practice squad, which may give the edge to Battles for the last safety spot.

10 DBs are a must. Carrying 4 safeties obviously isn't a stretch, but if the Steelers are going to run more nickel (which is the early indication), you can see how a numbers problem could quickly develop with a few injuries. Plus, you have a young group of DBs. So, a veteran hedge like Williams provides must be attractive. Then add to that Hope, Polamalu and Haggans starting and thus seeing less special teams time. Chidi isn't a luxury any more.

I really don't think the Steelers have much of a choice in the matter.

9 linebackers could be retained if the Steelers don't think they can hide Dedrick Roper and/or Nick McNeil on the practice squad. They might carry James Harrison until they are sure Haggans is okay.

LBs: James Farrior, Kendrell Bell, Larry Foote, Clint Kriewaldt, Joey Porter, Clark Haggans, Alonzo Jackson, and Nathaniel Adibi (he'll get a red-shirt pass for '04)

We'd de-emphasize the LBs in the nickel given the LBs at safety (e.g. Hope and Polamalu).

I could see 6 on the defensive line: Aaron Smith, Kimo Von Oelhoffen, Casey Hampton, Travis Kirschke, Brett Keisel, and Taylor. Since Von Oelhoffen, Kirschke, and Taylor can swing DE/DT, there's little reason why Kendrick Clancy has to stick. Maybe you hide Taylor on the practice squad, but we're betting he makes the team. Hoke could be #7 or the #6, if Taylor is put on the PS. But David Upchurch seems more likely to act as the DL on the scout team.

So, will Keisel (#99) and E. Taylor (#69: Out) show enough in preseason to spell the end for Hoke (#76) and Clancy (#93: Out)? Cowher seems to have some deep love for Hoke, so maybe the Steelers go 7 on the defensive line if Taylor proves valuable enough to keep on the roster.

Will Roper (#44) show too much in camp, thus unable to hide on the practice squad?

Will Battles (#37) or Stuvaints (#33) win out for the fourth spot at safety?

Those are the only roster spot questions on defense we see remaining to be answered over the last few weeks of the preseason.

Oh, if you are getting bored watching all the scrubs make too many mistakes, find #92. He'll at least provide a few entertaining hits.

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