Friday, August 26, 2011

An Ill Wind Blows

With Hurricane Irene bearing down on the East Coast, all we can do is hope for the best.

Nobody, apparently, expects Irene to have much effect on Pittsburgh, but our thoughts and prayers are with our neighbors in the path of the hurricane.

Trivial as it may seem against the backdrop of the natural disaster developing to the East, tomorrow night's exhibition game (glorified scrimmage) against the Atlanta Falcons at Heinz Field should be interesting. Most of the projected starters are expected to play the first half, or the bulk of it.

The coaches have some leeway to experiment, though, especially because of injuries on the offensive line and in the secondary. Fourth-year veteran (perennial hanger-on)
Tony Hills gets a chance to show what he can do at a new position (for him), right guard, where he will start. The big guy from the University of Texas was drafted to play tackle but has done little so far in his NFL career, and this may be a make-or-break opportunity. Luckily for Hills, the Steelers currently have little depth on the offensive line, so he will get a good long look. Let's hope he does better at guard than he's done so far at tackle.

Rookie Marcus Gilbert, the second-round draft pick from the University of Florida, will start at the critical left tackle spot, which is the blind-side of our right-handed QB. Let's hope Big Ben survives. Gilbert supposedly reported to camp out of shape and then sustained a hamstring injury, primarily because he was out of shape. Not a good first impression.

And, the Post-Gazette reports today that he will be lined up opposite the Falcons' John Abraham, one of the better pass-rushing veteran defensive ends in the NFL:

"Should he start, Gilbert will line up against Abraham, who ranked fifth in the NFL with 13 sacks and was named All-Pro for the third time in 2010."

In the secondary, veteran cornerback
Ike Taylor will miss this game with a broken thumb, so we should see plenty of Keenan Lewis and, perhaps, rookie free agent Donovan Warren, who has played well so far this pre-season (he led the team in tackles last week vs. the Eagles).

Warren has a bit of a pedigree. He came out of the University of Michigan (early) a year ago and spent time on the Jets' practice squad before being released after last season. A poor man's
Jonathan Joseph (also from Michigan)? That wouldn't be bad. This is the kind of out-of-nowhere player that gives us cause to watch pre-season games.

Anyway, Warren appears to have a legitimate chance to make this squad -- possibly at the expense of
Bryant McFadden, who is due a reported $2.5 million in salary. Hampered by a hamstring pull, McFadden's barely practiced this camp, and, as they say, "You can't make the club in the tub."

Of course, that begs the question of who would start in place of McFadden, who has been a solid pro during his time here.
Keenan Lewis? Possibly. William Gay looks like a career nickel back. Crezdon Butler and Cortez Allen simply aren't ready to get much playing time -- by all accounts, they're too raw. Not much depth, but this Donovan Waren character has looked good so far. There's certainly room for improvement at the cornerback position.

Food for thought, as reported by The Sporting News:

"(Steeler) Cornerbacks accounted for only five of the team’s 21 interceptions last season and have just 13 picks over the past three years. The Steelers pass defense struggled last season against elite quarterbacks as Drew Brees (305 yards), Tom Brady (350) and Aaron Rodgers (304) combined to complete 88 of 126 passes (70 percent) for 959 yards and eight touchdowns. The opposing quarterbacks’ passer rating in those three games was 137.6, 64 points above Pittsburgh’s regular-season average."

Granted, the salary cap dictates that the team can do only so much. But still ... there's room for improvement on both the offensive line and at the cornerback position.

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And then, as if we didn't have enough to worry about, there's this story to contemplate, for no particular reason ...

Toilet break at ex-wife's house leads to charges

GIRARD, Pa. -- A northwestern Pennsylvania man is jailed on charges he took an unwelcome toilet break in his ex-wife's home.

Police in Girard say 24-year-old Nathan Wingerter broke into his ex-wife's home on Aug. 1, threw her photo identification cards into the toilet and then defecated on them. Police say the woman walked in to find Mr. Wingerter on the toilet.

The Erie Times-News reports that police issued a warrant for Wingerter and arrested him days later in Painesville, Ohio. He was returned to Erie County to face charges of burglary and criminal mischief on Wednesday.

Photo courtesy of the Associated Press (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)