Final battle for jobs

The Steelers beat the Panthers 19-16 but the more important games were played between the guys trying to make the last few roster spots. Read below for more.

PITTSBURGH – The preseason finale meant so little to the Carolina Panthers, their first team didn't even play. The Steelers' starters played less than a quarter before the real game took place for the "11th-hour" jobs. Here's the breakdown of the roster jobs that were on the line last night:

Fourth quarterback – Charlie Batch is a terrific team leader who helps Ben Roethlisberger on the sidelines during games and gets rookies into their meetings during the week, but Batch will most likely be given an injury settlement, cut, and, if needed, picked up later in the season.

Third tight end – Injuries have turned this into a battle of longshots. Lee Vickers was pushed around during his limited appearance in the first half. The man in front of him on the depth chart, undrafted rookie Dezmond Sherrod, showed better blocking skills, and climbed the proverbial ladder to snare a third-down pass, but he also dropped a third-quarter pass. Waiver Wire could win this job.

Fifth offensive tackle – With three tackles – Marvel Smith, Max Starks, Trai Essex – in the final years of contracts, and a fourth, Willie Colon, due to become a restricted free agent, fourth-round pick Tony Hills might be a necessity for the future. He played poorly early this preseason, but picked up his game a bit and made no glaring errors last night. Hills, though, wouldn't help the Steelers this season and could make it back through waivers and onto the practice squad.

Fifth wide receiver – Eddie Drummond was down to his last chance to impress, according to Coach Mike Tomlin, and he fair-caught one punt, returned another against third-teamers for five yards, and couldn't return it back to the 30 late in the fourth quarter. So the race here is down to diminutive Willie Reid and 6-foot-3 Dallas Baker, who caught a first-half pass, broke a tackle, and gained 33 yards. He was greeted on the sideline by an ebullient Ben Roethlisberger, who took Baker under his wing last spring. Reid played well against Minnesota and probably has the edge because of his marginal return skills. Statistically, Baker caught 8 passes for 115 yards this preseason. Reid caught 9 for 81.

Linebacker – A torn ACL by Arnold Harrison may have locked up a job for Andre Frazier, and may also have helped disappointing rookie third-round pick Bruce Davis, who was blocked all night by the second- and third-team Carolina left tackles. Fifth-round pick Mike Humpal has been injured and probably won't make the roster. Undrafted rookies Patrick Bailey and Donovan Woods made late bids last night. Bailey made three consecutive special-teams tackles and Woods flashed up the middle for a sack and then a crushing pressure. Both are practice-squad contenders.

Defensive back – Expect 10 to be kept, with Roy Lewis, Anthony Madison and Tyrone Carter battling for the final two spots. Carter didn't play last night after starting three games in place of Troy Polamalu. Madison has given the Steelers quality gunner play. The undrafted Lewis plays corner and safety, played the ball well last night (before giving up the game-tying touchdown), is physical, and covers kicks. Lewis could probably sneak through waivers and onto the practice squad.

Defensive line – Orpheus Roye has played well enough to ease fears about depth. He'll likely become the sixth and last lineman behind Travis Kirschke.

Punter – Waiver Wire might be the leader here, too. Paul Ernster had another dull performance last night, but can kickoff in an emergency. Mitch Berger appears to be a natural holder, but has a history of horrific groin injuries. Berger had the better preseason average, 46.3 to 41.9.


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