Player watch list for the preseason opener

Time is running out on a camp reporter's usefulness because Monday night will mark the televised debut of the 2005 Steelers.

But before the Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles kick it off at 8 p.m. (ESPN), fans who haven't been to St. Vincent College might appreciate a viewing guide for their favorite team. So here's one reporter's advice on which player to watch at each position:

QUARTERBACK – Charlie Batch (#16) came to the Steelers in 2002 and has appeared in only 3 of the 51 games the team has played since then. In his 3 games, he attempted 8 passes. Does he have anything left from his promising younger days? If so, he could make Tommy Maddox expendable (operator, get me the Chicago Bears) because Brian St. Pierre has the third-string job locked up.

HALFBACK – Fast Willie Parker (#39) dropped a swing pass that hit him in numbers the other day at practice. It happens, of course, but Parker is moving up the depth chart and has a chance to win the third-down job with Duce Staley injured. Since he can block, and since he can hit the proverbial home run from anywhere on the field, Parker must show some good hands tonight to continue his rise from obscurity.

FULLBACK – Since Shippensburg 255-pounder John Kuhn practiced at tailback all week, the player to watch at this position is another rookie free agent, Zach Tuiasosopo (#41), of the famed Tuiasosopo sports family. At Saturday's practice, Tuiasosopo caught one of those difficult sideways swing passes. He contorted his body, made the catch and nimbly slipped into the end zone just inside the pylon. He's more of an offensive threat than the Dan Kreider-like Kuhn.

WIDE RECEIVER – One player can prevent this position from collapse should Hines Ward's holdout carry into the regular season and he's another Georgia Bulldog, rookie fourth-rounder Fred Gibson (#11). He's tall, fast, has good hands and can do what Walter Young can't: Gibson can burst out of his break. Gibson rose to the challenge this week when injuries forced him onto the first team. Can he rise to the next challenge? His knocks are that he's not physical in the run game or fearless over the middle and lacks focus at times.

TIGHT END – Heath Miller (#83) has shown he's a big-league blocker and pass-catcher. He would appear to have the speed to break deep, but hasn't been used much in that capacity this camp.

OFFENSIVE LINE – Chris Kemoeatu (#68) is a mountain of a second-team left guard. He may go the wrong way, but will destroy people getting there. Check to see if the 340-pounder has quick enough feet to pull in the Steelers' offense.

DEFENSIVE LINE – Brett Keisel (#99) is the fastest lineman on the team yet hasn't played much in his three-year career because of injuries and the fact iron man Aaron Smith starts in front of him at left end. Is this the year Keisel proves he's more than just a wedge-buster?

LINEBACKER – James Harrison (#92) has received raves for his work in drills and against the second-team offense, but hasn't shown much against the first-team offensive tackles. Harrison will start in place of injured Joey Porter and we'll see whether the camp hype was justified.

DEFENSIVE BACK – Second-round draft pick Bryant McFadden (#20) had a great first week, but stalled when coached up. It's obvious the complexities of the defense are making him think too much, which is only natural. Watch how much hand-checking the physical McFadden can get away with against the Eagles. Perhaps the officials won't be as kind as those who worked the camp practices.

SPECIALISTS – It's a brilliant group of second-teamers in camp. Punter Mike Barr and kicker Shaun Suisham are legitimate talents, but the one with the best chance of making the team is long-snapper Greg Warren (#40), who's served them up beautifully in practice.

OTHERS – Some other rookies to watch are wide receiver Nate Washington (#14), running back Noah Herron (#38) and defensive end Shaun Nua (#96). Washington isn't particularly big or fast, but is a good combination of the two, has a beautiful stride and good hands; Herron is another solid mix of above-average physical attributes and shows pro instincts; Nua is only 280 pounds, but with an additional 20 pounds could develop into a quick 3-4 end in a few years. Outside linebacker Andre Frazier (#45), like Nua, is destined for the practice squad and a fixed spot in the Steelers' chow line.


Steel City Insider Top Stories