Standouts from Steelers’ preseason opener

By Kyle Chrise  |   Tuesday, August 12, 2008  |  Comments( 5 )

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It was surely nice for Steelers fans to see their team emerge triumphant in its preseason opener, but the exhibition schedule isn't about wins and losses; rather, the point is for teams to gel, position battles to be solved and rookies to adjust to new surroundings.

That said, here are five performances from Pittsburgh's 16-10 victory over Philadelphia on Friday that have the Steelers' coaches and players feeling good.

Offensive line

Pittsburgh's biggest concern is its offensive line, but the entire unit had a solid performance against the Eagles. The line often pushed Eagles defenders backward when it came to running the ball, allowing the Steelers to rack up 118 ground yards on 35 attempts. That's only 3.4 yards per rush, but when Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall were in the backfield, they averaged 5.4 a try. In the passing game, the O-line allowed only one sack. Center Justin Hartwig had a strong performance with the second unit, and it will be interesting to see what he can do with the first-string line on Thursday against Buffalo.

Parker and Mendenhall

Parker was only in for one drive, but he still showed the burst of speed that led to his nickname -- "Fast Willie" -- in the first place. His three carries for 20 yards should restore faith in those who weren't sure if he was fully recovered from last season's broken leg.

First-round pick Mendenhall was fairly impressive in his first pro appearance, amassing 34 yards -- including a nice 15-yard pickup on a left-side sweep -- on seven carries. He also returned a kick 28 yards. Mendenhall will have to continue working on moving vertically instead of horizontally, and he needs improvement on short-yardage situations. Still, it was a solid debut for the former Illinois star.

Linebackers Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley

Timmons, a 2007 first-rounder, flashed the same speed he's been showing all camp. In the late first quarter, Donovan McNabb found Correll Buckhalter in the right flat. Timmons, not anywhere near Buckhalter, was playing zone when the runner caught the ball at the 13. Suddenly, Timmons exploded toward the ball and held a possible first-down play to only 3 yards. A couple plays later, Timmons kept pace with a wide receiver at the back of the end zone to prevent a touchdown. Even if he doesn't take the mack linebacker job away from veteran Larry Foote, it's obvious that Timmons will make an impact this season.

Woodley, last year's second-round pick, had a nice first start at left outside linebacker. He seemed to own Eagles right tackle Jon Runyan, a solid 13-year veteran. Runyan was penalized once for tripping Woodley after being tossed to the ground, and Philadelphia used a fullback to double team Woodley on at least one occasion.

Rookie wide receiver Limas Sweed

This year's second-round choice caught three passes for just 23 yards, but it was Sweed's toughness and fearlessness that was really impressive. In the second quarter while jumping high over the middle to make a catch, Sweed was hit in mid-air and landed on his head. It was only a 3-yard play, but he held onto the ball. Then, in the first play of the fourth quarter, he kept both feet inbounds on a nice sideline grab.

Rookie quarterback Dennis Dixon

The former Oregon star tore his ACL only nine months ago, but you couldn't tell it from Friday night's performance. Dixon was 6 of 9 for 30 yards -- not bad for a rookie -- and a 50-yard play was called back because of a hold that happened away from the play. However, it was one of Dixon's incomplete passes that was truly impressive. In the third quarter on a third-and-long play, it looked like Dixon was about to be sacked for a safety. But at the last moment, Dixon spun right, evaded the pressure and set back up to pass. The throw was incomplete, but it showed Dixon's confidence and composure.

The Steelers just signed Byron Leftwich to replace the injured Charlie Batch, but head coach Mike Tomlin says he won't be putting Batch on injured reserve. That means Dixon will probably only make the team if the Steelers keep four quarterbacks on their roster. Regardless, Dixon is making his case for a roster spot, which is his first step toward the goal of eventually becoming Ben Roethlisberger's backup.

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About Kyle Chrise

Like a modern-day Moses, Kyle was found drifting down the Monongahela River, wrapped in a Terrible Towel, next to what was then Three Rivers Stadium. Found and raised by the stadium's grounds crew, Chrise lived and breathed Steelers football. As a youngster, he earned the trust of new head coach...
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