Plenty of playing time for these Steelers

Mike Tomlin expects the Steelers' rookies to 'hyperventilate' in tonight's preseason opener, but he'll give them enough time against the Detroit Lions anyway.

LATROBE – The question was a common one. The answer was not.

Mike Tomlin was asked what he expects from his rookies Saturday night in the Steelers' preseason opener at Heinz Field against the Detroit Lions.

"I expect them to get extremely tired extremely quickly because that's what happens to all rookies," Tomlin said with a smile.

"They cover the first kick and they can't believe how fast it is and how intense it is. Usually it takes a couple plays and then they get their feet back on the ground and they get a measure of where they are. That's what's going to happen to these guys. These guys here are no different than any other crop of guys that've come through. They're going to hyperventilate a little bit. It'll be fun to watch."

After the starters take their 12 snaps, Tomlin said the rookies will be part of the next group and will take 35-plus snaps for their longest assignments until the fourth preseason game.

Following is a breakdown of those rookies, as well as the other second-tier players, by position and where they stand in the roster battle (with jersey numbers in parenthesis):

QUARTERBACK – Nothing to see here, but expect Ben Roethlisberger to start the game. Byron Leftwich is a lock to start the regular season over Dennis Dixon, while Charlie Batch will be cut for salary purposes but kept on speed dial.

RUNNING BACK – The coaches are upset with rookie Jonathan Dwyer (41) only because he's not in the exquisite shape he was this spring. There's no chance those coaches will forget that about Dwyer, nor the speed he flashed as a big back. He's a roster lock. Isaac Redman (33) and Frank Summers (44) will battle for the fourth and final roster spot. Redman will need to play much better at fullback and special teams to make his stand.

WIDE RECEIVER – Manny Sanders (88) and Antonio Brown (84) are rookies and roster locks as the Nos. 5 and 6 at the position. They had horrid practices Thursday and will try to make amends (although Sanders complained of a neck stinger). Stefan Logan (11) must beat the rookies by a convincing margin as a kick returner to make the team as the No. 7 WR. Another WR you haven't seen is veteran acquisition Arnaz Battle (81), a good-looking punt gunner and potential special teams star.

TIGHT ENDS – For a team that uses so many tight ends in its offense, there's a real scarcity of depth here behind Heath Miller. That's a shame following a draft that turned out so many two-way tight ends. Heck, even the Ravens got a potential two-way star in the third round in Ed Dickson. Anyway, see if second-year man David Johnson (85) can hold on to a pass or use his impressive strength to lead a runner through a hole. Either would be a surprise.

OFFENSIVE LINE – Flozell Adams (71) shouldn't even play, considering the lack of depth at OT. If the 35-year-old goes down, the Steelers would be forced to move Trai Essex from right guard to tackle because Jonathan Scott (72) has been awful. Maybe, just maybe, Tony Hills (66) can pick it up at tackle, starting tonight. Watch Doug Legursky (64) and see if he should be this team's starting center while first-round pick Maurkice Pouncey (53) gets his game together. Second-year man Kraig Urbik (65) is probably battling the aforementioned Scott for the last roster spot here.

DEFENSIVE LINE – Ziggy Hood (96) has been on a mission this camp, but see if Sunny Harris (77) is progressing, too. He would be the sixth man in line coach John Mitchell's six-man rotation. Seventh-round pick Doug Worthington (95) is in line for the practice squad.

LINEBACKER – Second-round pick Jason Worilds (97) may not play, but he had a great practice Thursday in coming back from his hamstring injury. The other rookie OLB, Thaddeus Gibson (90) will see plenty of time in reserve of LaMarr Woodley. There's no doubting Gibson's athletic ability as a rusher and cover man. We'll also get to see if the rookie inside backer, Stevenson Sylvester (47), can stuff the run and play special teams as well as he seems to be doing in camp. He's been the late-round camp phenom so far.

CORNERBACK – Another late-round camp phenom has been Crezdon Butler (40), dubbed "The Amazing Crezdon" by TV analyst Tunch Ilkin. But the player who's improved nearly as much as Hood this camp has been second-year corner Keenan Lewis (23), who'll step in for Bryant McFadden on the left side and start at punt gunner. Also, look for second-team nickel back Joe Burnett (27) as a kickoff returner.

SAFETY – Will Allen (26) replaced Tyrone Carter as the backup strong safety, and is expected to excel on special teams. Ryan Mundy (29) is being used as the third safety and third-and-very-long linebacker and could be making his third-year breakthrough.

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