The NFL is a business of opportunities. Take advantage of the first, and a second is presented, and so on and so on until roster spots are won and roles are earned.
That's what will be going on in Denver on Sunday, when the Steelers play the Broncos in an 8 p.m. game to be televised nationally by FOX.
Coach Mike Tomlin said Maurkice Pouncey will start at center, that Dennis Dixon will get some repetitions at quarterback with the first-team offense, and that Antonio Brown will return more punts and kickoffs with blocking schemes adjusted to the skill-set he showed last weekend against the Giants.
"Maurkice has done a nice job with every opportunity we've given him thus far. We're going to continue to give him more opportunities," said Tomlin. "We recognize that Jamal Williams plays nose guard for the Denver Broncos. He's a perennial Pro Bowl caliber player, and it's going to be an awesome opportunity for Maurkice to measure where he is vs. a guy of that caliber. That's what it's about, more than anything else.
"I intend to give Dennis some looks with the first group against some good people. I think he's earned that. And that's what this preseason is about. We're going to look at Antonio Brown more as a punt and kick returner and build some schemes to fit the skill-set we thought we looked at from him last week. Those are the kind of things that you do this time of year – the development and maturation of the football team."
Pouncey's maturation as an NFL center could be accelerated in Denver by going against Williams, particularly if Williams is what he was during the bulk of his dozen seasons with the San Diego Chargers. Listed at 6-foot-3, 348 pounds, Williams played only one game last season before landing on the injured reserve list, and the Broncos signed him in March.
Dixon, the third-year pro from Oregon who came to the team as a fifth-round draft pick in 2008, has posted the best statistics of any of the Steelers quarterbacks to this point in the preseason. He has co0mpleted 13-of-15 (86.7 percent) for 210 yards, with one touchdown and no interceptions for a passer rating of 141.0. He also is second on the team with 58 rushing yards on 11 attempts.
Those statistics came against second- and third-team opposition, but because Dixon performed well, Tomlin has decided to see what he can do against more difficult competition.
The third of four preseason games is typically the one where the front-line guys play the longest, and so Tomlin is hoping the Broncos plan to play their regulars as long as he is going to play the Steelers'. "That's kind of standard protocol here in the NFL for this week," said Tomlin. "I'm not assuming anything. I'm hopeful that opportunity will be provided for us."
On the subject of doing well and receiving additional opportunities – Tomlin said Daniel Sepulveda will do some kicking off in Denver.
"I thought he did a great job, and I want to give him another opportunity," said Tomlin." I'm not saying he's going to do it the entire game, but he will get an opportunity to do it some. I'm sure he's excited about doing it in the thin air up in Denver."
The air in Denver might be thin, but the atmosphere at Invesco Field will be heavy with opportunities for the players capable of taking advantage of them.
"I don't know what (Denver's) intentions are, but our intentions are of course to work and to work the first group in for an extended period of time," said Tomlin. "I'm hopeful that it's going to be that kind of environment. I know that their fans are awesome. I know it's going to be a hostile environment for us. I'm excited about it from that standpoint."
INJURY UPDATE: Said Tomlin, "Ryan Mundy tweaked his ankle there a little bit in practice, but I don't think it's anything significant. He came back and finished the day. All other things are status quo. Bryant McFadden has that pectoral injury, and if I had to characterize him I would probably say he's doubtful for this week. Keenan Lewis (concussion) passed all tests with flying colors and he is back out here working."