The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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August 28, 2013

Steelers fighting for spots in finale

PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger is freaking out over the Pittsburgh Steelers’ winless preseason, except for the part where he’s not.

“I’m so worried, can’t you see it on my face?” Roethlisberger said with a laugh. “It’s the preseason, and we’re taking this time to work on things and get better, but we’ll be ready to go when it’s time.”

Maybe, but history isn’t kind to teams who can’t find a way to end up on the right side of the score at least once in August. The Steelers have never made the playoffs after going 0-fer in exhibitions, including an 8-8 mark in Bill Cowher’s final season as head coach in 2006.

Translation: the backups better be ready tonight against the Carolina Panthers.

While Roethlisberger and other starters will barely break a sweat – if they even play at all – the reserves will try to win a football game and hope they win over coach Mike Tomlin in the process.

The only position battle up for grabs is at punter, where Drew Butler and veteran Brian Moorman will get one last chance to state their case. For two dozen other players hoping to avoid being cut when the roster is trimmed from 75 to 53 this weekend, the preseason finale offers an opportunity to show they’re worth keeping around.

The biggest question marks are at linebacker and wide receiver. Rookie Vince Williams and veterans Brian Rolle and Marshall McFadden are in the mix to back up Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote.

Williams, a fifth-round pick out of Florida State, has already recorded 10 tackles through three games while adding a sack and a pass breakup. He also committed a critical personal foul penalty last week against Kansas City due to a horse collar tackle.

It’s the kind of miscue that can make coaches reconsider a roster spot, something Williams knows he has to avoid if he wants to survive the final round of cuts.

“I’ve done all right, but I’m never a guy who’s going to settle or be complacent,” Williams said. “There’s always more I can do and more ways to improve my game.”

The fastest way to Tomlin’s good graces on Thursday might be through special teams. The unit hasn’t exactly excelled during the preseason, allowing a blocked punt in the opener and a kickoff return for a score against the Chiefs. The players on the fringe of the final 53 will be the ones who can make their mark in a portion of the game the Steelers view as vital to their success.

“I think we need more consistent above-the-line effort from some of those guys in that regard,” Tomlin said. “I think the ones that distinguish themselves will be the ones that show an aptitude for playmaking and understand the football in that phase.”

One of camp’s biggest surprises has come from wide receiver Derek Moye. The former Penn State wideout is in a battle with sixth-round pick Justin Brown for the fifth receiving spot but has shown a knack for making plays. He caught three passes for 41 yards versus Kansas City and his 6-foot-5 frame makes for an inviting red zone target now that Plaxico Burress is out for the season with a shoulder injury.

Moye isn’t trying to get too caught up in the numbers game. There’s a chance the Steelers break camp with four receivers, leaving him one of the odd men out regardless of how he performs. All he can do is go out and try not to give his coaches a reason to cut him.

“I don’t think things are going to be based on just this one game,” Moye said. “But anytime you can go out there and show what you can do, it’s obviously a big help to your case or it can hurt it.”

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