Roster battles coming into focus

The Steelers are Super Bowl champs, but have a few roster spots for the taking. Jim Wexell breaks down those spots and relays what he's heard about the contenders.

In the 2000 preseason, Dermontti Dawson, Roger Duffy and Tom Myslinski were so banged up that an undrafted rookie from Robert Morris College, Hank Fraley, made most of the preseason snaps.

The veterans returned and Fraley was cut, but he was picked up and is still playing because of his tape, a resume that other teams examine as they sort through the trash of the waiver wire.

Doug Legursky (#64) is in a similar situation. An undrafted free agent center in 2008 from Marshall University, Legursky is the Steelers' starting center tonight by default. He's acquitted himself well this camp, and if one were to ask a coach, he'd keep Legursky because of his experience last year as part of the practice squad. If one were to ask the personnel department, they'd keep rookie seventh-round draft pick A.Q. Shipley (61) because of his upside. So the two young centers are in a virtual tie for the backup roster spot behind injured Justin Hartwig.

There are similar scenarios throughout the rest of the Steelers' roster, and the players will begin to separate themselves tonight when the preseason opens at Heinz Field against the Arizona Cardinals.

Here's a breakdown of the camp battles that will be watched closely tonight:

Offensive line – At guard, Ramon Foster (73) has outplayed third-round pick Kraig Urbik (65), so both are considered roster locks. Tony Hills (66) has struggled with power rushers, but he's said to be leading Jason Capizzi (69) in the fight for the backup tackle spot.

Tight end – Seventh-round pick David Johnson (85) has shown power as both an in-line blocker and lead fullback, but appears destined for the practice squad because veteran Sean McHugh has the same skills but with more polish.

Wide receivers – Mike Wallace (17) is a lock for the fourth receiver spot and will return the first kickoff. The fifth spot is a battle between Brandon Williams (82) and Shaun McDonald (87), with hard-charging Dallas Baker (81) having a great week of practice. Williams is said to be leading McDonald for the No. 5 spot. Also, diminutive return specialist Stefan Logan (41) has a puncher's chance. Tyler Grisham (19) and Steven Black (18) are the rookie candidates for the practice squad.

Running backs – No one's cutting Carey Davis, so don't argue the point. The final backfield spot is being held by Frank "The Tank" Summers (44), but undrafted Isaac Redman (33) had a strong week of practice and is pushing.

Quarterbacks – Nos. 3 and 4, Dennis Dixon (2) and Mike Reilly (13), have been unimpressive in camp, but games are where jobs are won.

Defensive line – The Steelers will keep seven, so that means last year's top six veterans and first-round pick Ziggy Hood (96) will relegate Sonny Harris (73) to the practice squad.

Linebackers – With Donovan Woods (95) a roster lock, according to a source, because he can play inside, outside and special teams, and veteran Andre Frazier the top backup outside, the No. 8 spot is a battle between last year's Rookie of the Year, Patrick Bailey (55), and last year's third-round draft pick, Bruce Davis (50).

Cornerback – Coach Mike Tomlin said he'll be interested to see how the young defensive backs perform against the Cardinals' prolific passing attack. Three veterans and special teams ace Anthony Madison are said to be secure, and rookies Keenan Lewis (20) and Joe Burnett (40) are terrific young prospects. That leaves veteran Keiwan Ratliff (31) needing an injury. Roy Lewis (30) is eligible to return to the practice squad.

Safety – Ryan Mundy (29) can only lose his position as the backup free safety. Undrafted rookie Derrick Richardson (45) is likely shooting for the practice squad.

Kicker – Not much room here, but Poland-born Piotr Czech (5) can kickoff and punt. While not nearly as accurate as Jeff Reed, Czech has a stronger leg for the occasional deep field goal as well.

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