Steelers open preseason looking for fast start

Steelers open preseason against Giants tonight

August 8, 2014

It took the Steelers two months to get their first victory last year after going 0-4 in the preseason and matching that mark to open the regular season.

While head coach Mike Tomlin doesn’t feel there is any carryover from one season to the next, he admits that a young team with a number of new starters can’t afford to sleepwalk its way through another exhibition games.

The preseason will begin tonight when the Steelers face the New York Giants (7:30 p.m. kickoff) at MetLife Stadium.

“I acknowledge that this group needs to start fast and play with a sense of urgency that’s required to win,” said Tomlin. “Those will be our intentions whenever we play, regardless of the circumstances.”

That sense of urgency wasn’t always evident early last season as the Steelers dealt with a number of injuries throughout the preseason that carried over into the start of the regular season.

The same issue could be occurring this year as rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier, the team’s top draft pick who is slated to start at inside linebacker, is unlikely to play today. Shazier has been dealing with a knee injury for the past week.

One man’s pain is another man’s opportunity, however. Steelers linebacker Sean Spence knows all about that.

Spence, a third-round draft pick in 2012, suffered a severe knee injury during a preseason game in his rookie season and has not played since. With Shazier likely out, Spence will not only see his first live game action against the Giants, he’ll do it as a member of the starting lineup.

“I appreciate them sticking with me, showing patience with me and showing faith and giving me a chance to comeback,” Spence said. “A lot of teams probably would have cut ties with me a long time ago, but this organization didn’t.”

While the preseason opener will be a chance for Spence to show he’s fully recovered from his knee injury, others will use the opportunity to make an impression on the coaching staff as they attempt to win a roster spot.

California University wide receiver C.J. Goodwin, who missed the opening week of training camp with a shoulder injury, is one of those players attempting to prove he belongs in the NFL.

“I’ve got to make a play and show them,” said Goodwin, a graduate of the Linsly School in Wheeling, W.Va., who works as a counselor at the Mel Blount Youth Home in Claysville. “The pressure is on. I feel like I should do good under pressure.”

But the bright lights of an NFL stadium and playing in front of a big crowd in a game that will be televised in one of the top TV markets in the country – as well as in the Pittsburgh area – has its challenges. Goodwin said the crowds at training camp at Saint Vincent College have been the largest he’s performed in front of.

“That should be fun, playing in front of all of those fans and with millions of people watching. That should be a good experience,” Goodwin said. “It motivates me.”

The guys battling for end-of-the-roster spots or slots on the practice squad such as Goodwin should see plenty of playing time in this game.

Tomlin, as has been the case in his previous seven seasons, doesn’t expect many of his starters to play deep into the first quarter, though certain players could see more playing time than others.

That means certain veterans such as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger or strong safety Troy Polamalu could make what will amount to cameo appearances.

“Our goal is to give these guys what we deem it is they need or what it is we need to see from them,” Tomlin said. “It will be different things for different people.”

Odds and end zones

As part of the NFL’s experimentation with point after attempts, all PAT kicks will have the 15-yard-line set as the line of scrimmage instead of the 2. Two-point conversions will still be placed at the 2. … With nose tackle Steve McLendon (concussion) not expected to play, rookie defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt, the team’s second-round draft pick, will start at defensive end. … Guard Ramon Foster sat out the past two days of practice with an undisclosed injury. If he does not play, first-year player Chris Hubbard would start in his place.

Dale Lolley has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1993 after previously working at WJAC-TV and the Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, and The Derrick in Oil City. A native of Fryburg, Pa., he is a graduate of North Clarion High School and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, where he earned a degree in journalism. He has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers since joining the Observer-Reporter in 1993, and also serves as the outdoors editor. He also is a radio host for Pittsburgh’s ESPN 970-AM, and serves as administrative adviser for the Red & Black, Washington & Jefferson College’s student newspaper.

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