The Detroit Lions will be hosting an open house this Saturday for their brand new stadium. Most fans probably won't even notice. The hot topic for Lions fans these days is who should start at quarterback, rookie Joey College Harrington or local Burgh boy (Wexford native) Mike McMahon? Harrington amplified the buzz that started the day the Lions drafted him by looking very impressive in the Lions loss to the Cleveland Browns.
Harrington went 17-31 for 244 yards, 1 TD and 0 INTs. Joey College replaced starter Mike McMahon about halfway through the second quarter after a 5-9 for 64 yards, 1 TD and 0 INTs showing for McMahon. So far, head coach Marty Mornhinweg insists that McMahon is his starter. The Detroit fans will have none of that, viewing Harrington as the savior for a woeful 2-14 team.
Detroit is not the only team that needs a savior. The 13-3 Pittsburgh Steelers, still fresh (even after 7 months) off a disastrous AFC Championship loss, have their own QB controversy brewing. The second string quarterback is the eternal darling in Pittsburgh and the reborn Tommy Maddox might just get his chance to fuel the fire. First team quarterback Kordell Stewart is still woozy after suffering a concussion at the hands of Skins LB LaVar Arrington last Sunday night. Head coach Bill Cowher has already indicated that Maddox will start if Stew cannot go.
As if the signing of QB Charlie Batch earlier during the off-season was not enough, Maddox might start a media storm by cashing in on the Steelers resurgent passing attack. Suddenly, the Steelers have a slew of offensive weapons, thanks to the emergence of wide receivers Plaxico Burress and Hines Ward last season and the new additions of rookie Antwaan Randle El and the ageless veteran Terance Mathis.
While most fans and press love a good quarterback controversy, there are more pressing issues at hand in the upcoming preseason match up. The first round of cuts loom and this game is the last chance for a few players to make their case, or at least delay the inevitable.
For the most part, the Lions roster is still wide open. Detroit does have an excellent defensive line, but almost every other unit suffers from major questions marks. On top of that list is the offensive line. The Lions were one of the worst teams in the NFL at protecting their QB last season, and the preseason has been no different. The Lions will be looking for a few linemen to stand out in the game, but the coaching staff has little idea who that might be or if it will happen at all.
The Lions brought in a couple of aging veterans to help their beleaguered secondary. The old men are holding their own, but the Lions need more help than that. The secondary will be another group to watch and see if anyone is playing well. Again, no one has really stepped up in camp and the Lions future cuts may be one of the hardest teams in the NFL to predict.
On the other hand, the Steelers pale in comparison in terms of roster drama. Pittsburgh is returning almost every starter from a playoff team. Almost all of the battles concern depth, with most positions decided except for the last guy on the chart. Farrior will be switching ILB positions and deserves watching just to see if his play improves. But the LB core is relatively set for who will make the roster. Even rookie Larry Foote and second year man Justin Kurpeikis look to be locks. Keep an eye on 44 Pernell Griffen and 42 James Harrison. One of these two just might steal a roster spot.
Camp reporter Jim Wexell pointed out other battles to watch, which are on the defensive line (Combs vs. Keisel), at wide receiver (Jackson vs. Edwards), and at tight end (Cushing vs. Allred). The Steelers have been practicing throws to the tight ends quite a bit this week in camp. Pittsburgh figures to get a good look at the TEs against Detroit. So, the passing game may be reined in a bit to give these seldom-used players some work.
The defensive backfield is a little muddled and the Steelers are showing some concern at safety. Rookie Chris Hope does not seem to be wowing the coaches and the latest rumor has the Steelers talking terms with former player Myron "Boo" Bell. Bell also might be considered just an extra DB that knows the scheme. The pass defense in the second half during the game against the Redskins was not effective and the coaches may be scrambling to make sure the Steelers have enough depth in the dime. A few of the rookie DBs can expect a visit from the Turk very soon.
Overall, the Steelers should provide Harrington and McMahon a good test given the rush the Steelers bring, the lack of blocking up front that Detroit has, and the confusing coverage schemes that Pittsburgh prefers to run. And with Detroit's good defensive line, the Steelers should get another chance to see how the running attack is developing. The tight ends should be open all day.
Oh yeah, and that quarterback controversy...