Game within the game

It's all about the roster battles anyway. In the Steelers' 17-14 loss at Washington on Saturday night, I watched four ...

... roster battles that I believe will play a role in shaping the bottom of the roster. Here's what I learned:

Carey Davis vs. Frank SummersWell, The Tank didn't play with a hamstring injury. While he was sitting out early in the week with what Coach Mike Tomlin said was groin tightness, Summers admitted that his whole body was tight. That's a shame because he's the best lead iso blocker on the roster. The veteran Davis started at fullback and played on at least three first-team special teams. Davis had a false start, but led Willie Parker around the corner and took out the cornerback on the 3-yard touchdown run.

Tank might be a keeper, but he's not going to knock the veteran out from the tub.

Sean McHugh vs. David JohnsonHere's a rookie with a real chance of displacing a veteran. Johnson was inserted at fullback on the Steelers' first possession, but he's a much better blocker on the edge of the line as a tight end. He sealed the corner effectively as a member of the first team on one early run. As a fullback later with the second team, Johnson appeared tentative and didn't get low enough through the hole. He also was called for holding on a punt return.

McHugh is a better blocking fullback, but might not be as good as the rookie at the line. He appears to have slipped behind Johnson on the depth chart – at least in this game anyway.

Travis Kirschke/Nick Eason vs. Sonny Harris – If Harris is going to make this team, he probably has to do so at the expense of one of the veteran backups. But both Kirschke and Eason played well, particularly Eason. And both were used on all three downs when playing with the second team, indicating their versatility. Both vets were rushed into the game in the red zone to replace exhausted ends at the end of the Redskins' first drive, and helped hold them to a field goal.

It doesn't appear as if either veteran is going anywhere soon, but Harris played well again, The sixth-round draft pick was inserted at RDE late in the third quarter. On the first play of the fourth quarter, he blew up the OT and tackled the runner in the backfield. On the Redskins' final touchdown, he was driving his man deep into the backfield. Later, he was double-teamed and driven off the ball as the Redskins ran through the hole, but he came back to collapse the pocket a play or two later and then made a tackle late in a long drive, just before Tom Korte's interception.

Harris is raw, but he's talented. The team that has Ryan McBean running first team – Denver – would pick this guy up off waivers.

Bruce Davis vs. Patrick BaileyThe third-string outside linebackers are battling for the final LB spot. But after watching tight ends move each of them around in the fourth quarter, I wouldn't be surprised if both are cut to keep return man Stefan Logan.

Bailey is the better special-teamer of the two. In fact, at one point late in the third quarter, local TV analyst Edmund Nelson said of Davis's coverage effort, "It just doesn't seem like he really wanted to get in there and mix it up." Both players entered at OLB late in the third quarter. Bailey did pressure the quarterback on a boot pass, but otherwise neither player showed much.


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