The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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August 29, 2008

A look at those battling for jobs with Steelers

PITTSBURGH — The preseason finale meant so little to the Carolina Panthers, their first team didn’t even play. The Steelers’ starters played less than a quarter before the real game took place for the “11th-hour” jobs. Here’s the breakdown of the roster jobs that were on the line Thursday night:

Fourth quarterback: Charlie Batch is a terrific team leader who helps Ben Roethlisberger on the sidelines during games and gets rookies into their meetings during the week, but Batch will most likely be given an injury settlement, cut, and, if needed, picked up later in the season.

Third tight end: Injuries have turned this into a battle of longshots.

Lee Vickers was pushed around during his limited appearance in the first half.

The man in front of him on the depth chart, undrafted rookie Dezmond Sherrod, showed better blocking skills, and climbed the proverbial ladder to snare a third-down pass, but he also dropped a third-quarter pass. Waiver wire could win this job.

Fifth offensive tackle: With three tackles – Marvel Smith, Max Starks, Trai Essex – in the final years of contracts, and a fourth, Willie Colon, due to become a restricted free agent, fourth-round pick Tony Hills might be a necessity for the future.

He played poorly early this preseason, but picked up his game a bit and made no glaring errors last night. Hills, though, wouldn’t help the Steelers this season and could make it back through waivers and onto the practice squad.

Fifth wide receiver: Eddie Drummond was down to his last chance to impress, according to coach Mike Tomlin, and he fair caught one punt, returned another against third-teamers for five yards and couldn’t return it back to the 30 late in the fourth quarter. So the race here is down to diminutive Willie Reid and 6-foot-3 Dallas Baker, who caught a first-half pass, broke a tackle, and gained 33 yards. He was greeted on the sideline by an ebullient Ben Roethlisberger, who took Baker under his wing last spring. Reid played well against Minnesota and probably has the edge because of his marginal return skills. Statistically, Baker caught 8 passes for 115 yards this preseason. Reid caught 9 for 81.

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