Rare urgency for preseason finale

PITTSBURGH – Fourth preseason games are traditionally throwaway games, but with so much on the line at quarterback for the Steelers ...

... tonight's game against the Carolina Panthers carries a bit of urgency.

Here's the breakdown:

QUARTERBACK – Could Charlie Batch go from the cutting-room floor to opening-day starter? It would take an awful lot of courage for a coach to make that move. Mike Tomlin will most likely stick with his plan and start Byron Leftwich against Atlanta. Batch looks like a roster lock after Sunday's game.

RUNNING BACK – You try to get away for holiday, and wouldn't it be like the Steelers to put in a claim for a running back Saturday night? The depth here has been disappointing. Isaac Redman has potential at fullback, but let's see this former state wrestling champ lead block tonight. The alleged lead blocker, Frank Summers, hasn't shown much in that department. Jonathan Dwyer will go the wrong way, whiff on a blitz, drop a pass, but he'll also move the pile and run with speed. He needs a more consistent effort tonight to sneak up and grab a roster spot.

TIGHT END – David Johnson will be the lead blocker, and third tight end. Sean McHugh needs a big game and then maybe even an injury.

OFFENSIVE LINE – Broncos backups had Justin Hartwig on skates last Sunday. He's a goner, and Kraig Urbik makes the team with a third solid performance in a row. Urbik's been playing better than Doug Legursky, but Legursky may be needed as a lead blocker in the backfield on game day (note the trickle-down effect). Should keep 10 here.

DEFENSIVE LINE – Doug Worthington has practice squad written all over him, so it's Sunny Harris trying once again to force a numbers extension (to seven) at the position. He failed last year, but was re-claimed from the Panthers later. Harris needs to crank it up tonight – and tease both the Steelers and Panthers again. Nick Eason is number six here.

LINEBACKER – It's about time for Jason Worilds to show something more than occasional teases. He's still a roster lock, as is Thaddeus Gibson. Stevenson Sylvester is another rookie trying to force a numbers extension (to nine) at his position. He's the guy to watch tonight. Patrick Bailey, enjoy that Duke degree, son. It's been a pleasure.

SECONDARY – Anthony Madison got a nice long look with the top players last week. He's in a battle with Crezdon Butler and perhaps even Keenan Lewis, who tumbled badly last Sunday. Those three are battling for the ninth and 10th spots here. The sixth and final cornerback must also contend with Urbik, Stevenson, Dwyer and Harris. Two jobs for those five.

SPECIAL TEAMS – Matt Stewart might not be as precise as Greg Warren, but he gives the Steelers better downfield coverage, and that's tipping the scales in his direction.


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