Making a stand in Charlotte

PITTSBURGH – The guy at the next locker had just been cut, so Matt Kranchick was a bit edgy as he buckled up for Tuesday's practice.

He wasn't comfortable taking questions. He'd had some good moments this camp; some bad moments, just like poor Grant Bowman here next to him. So Kranchick buckled up and buttoned up, except to reach into the archives.

"Coach Paterno always talked about it," Kranchick said. "You're never as good as you think you are when you win, or as bad as you think you are when you lose."

Invoking JoePa. You know it's get-serious time for Kranchick, as it is for the rest of the bubble boys tonight.

The Steelers travel to Charlotte to play the Carolina Panthers (8 p.m., KDKA) in the preseason finale. For one quarter, Pittsburgh fans will watch another episode of "As Ben Turns." For three quarters, they'll watch personal battles for careers -- no, fortunes – that will be waged by players such as Kranchick.

Eric Taylor's another.

"I've been trying to show people I belong here and that I can play at this level," Taylor said. "I'm looking at this game as a stand."

Eric Taylor's last stand. The 23-year-old was on the practice squad last year, but he wants more … more … well, money, for one thing. The first-year minimum salary is $230,000. He made $68,000 on the practice squad.

The 6-foot-2, 305-pound defensive end, with the braids hanging out his helmet, made a move last week. Taylor flashed a few times in the second half at Washington. On one play he tackled a running back AND his offensive lineman from behind.

"I had to get him down somehow, so I went through the lineman to get to the running back," Taylor said.

"That's probably the most I played. I wouldn't say it's the best I've played; just making strides." It's led Taylor to his stand tonight. There are several others making their stands as well:

QUARTERBACK – Charlie Batch or Brian St. Pierre must stand out to make the team; perhaps both will be cut. Right now, Batch has shown more and is the leader for the third job.

RUNNING BACK – With Willie Parker sitting out, rookie 7th-rounder Noah Herron can win the team's preseason rushing title. But it's been a grind to gain his 82 yards. He's averaging 2.8 yards per carry and has 3 catches for -1 yard. Herron has roster numbers on his side, since the big boys are hurt, but he's fighting against backs who'll appear on the waiver wire early next week. John Kuhn of Shippensburg is still around.

WIDE RECEIVER – There are four locks, counting Nate Washington, and Lee Mays is probably a fifth because of his experience. That leaves Fred Gibson and Sean Morey fighting for one last spot.

TIGHT END – Kranchick consistently makes plays; the blocking can come. He should feel comfortable here. Walter Rasby is a veteran in the Jonathan Hayes mold. He'll be the fourth.

OFFENSIVE LINE – With the promise shown by rookie Chris Kemoeatu, Jim Jones is a long shot at guard. Barrett Brooks should be the 9th and final lineman since rookie left tackle Trai Essex has trouble playing the right side.

DEFENSIVE LINE – Taylor needs to make someone say "wow" to crack the top 6, but will likely spend his second year on the practice squad. Rookie Shaun Nua needs more weight and also appears destined for the practice squad.

LINEBACKER – Just when Andre Frazier was showing something other than potential he was injured by teammate Clint Kriewaldt, who'd gotten blocked. Frazier didn't stay down for long. The tall and rangy LOLB is battling Dedrick Roper for the last spot here. We must believe Alonzo Jackson is around only as motivation.

SECONDARY – Chidi Iwuoma should beat Morey for the special-teams coverage spot that's open, unless Fred Gibson flops at WR tonight. It may not make sense, but the 53rd spot on the roster seldom does. Another potential coverage ace is Tyrone Carter, who's running neck-and-neck with Russell Stuvaints for the fourth safety spot. Carter could force them to keep five.

LONG-SNAPPER – Rookie Greg Warren has gotten most of the work over Mike Schneck this preseason, and didn't make so much as a peep. Coaches like that in a long-snapper; GMs like the $310,000 savings over 7th-year vets. But, Jeff Reed did miss two field goals. Was it a snapping problem? The tape won't lie.

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