By Teresa Varley
Expect to see the starters in the game longer against the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday than you have most of the preseason.
The third preseason game is normally a final warm-up for the starters, with them playing a lot longer than the series or two they did in the first two games.
"You treat it like a regular season game because you are going to be out there longer," said running back Willie Parker. "I am out there trying to get better. It's a preseason game but it's time to see where we are at as a team."
Hines Ward knows that you have to approach every game the same whether you are going to play one snap or 60 minutes.
"That's how injuries occur, if you don't prepare the same," said Ward. "Most veteran guys we look forward to playing, we are ready to play. It stinks when you get warmed up and you just play a series or two. This is the last preparation we are going to get until the regular season. A lot of us want to go out there and play as much as possible."
While it might have a regular season approach, don't expect to see a lot of the offensive game plan unveiled.
"You don't want to show too much as far as game-planning," said Ward. "It is the preseason and you don't want to show all of the plays you are going to use in the season and get it on tape. It's about finding 11 guys out there on the same page and seeing if we can gel as a team."
And the Steelers are still searching for those 11 guys, especially on the offensive line where there are some new faces and some indecision still.
Chris Kemoeatu started the first two preseason games at left guard, taking over for Alan Faneca who left via free agency after last season. Sean Mahan started at center against the Eagles and Justin Hartwig will get his second start of the preseason this week. That position might not be decided until the team heads into the regular season.
"We have to get used to the people that are in there," said Parker. "We are shuffling people around. There are some new faces. We have to get a feel for the line and get comfortable with the set line. It really doesn't affect me. It makes me better. Some offensive linemen do things different or better than others so it keeps me on my toes how I make my reads."
Quarterback Byron Leftwich will see action in his second preseason game against the Vikings and he feels much more prepared than he did a little over a week ago.
Leftwich saw his first preseason action against the Bills on Aug. 14, just a few days after signing with the Steelers. Leftwich finished the game completing five of 11 passes for 41 yards.
"I am feeling more comfortable," said Leftwich. "I have a better understanding of what we are trying to do offensively. It was a tough situation last week when I only had two days. At the same time it's getting better.
"I don't want to say I am fully getting the offense but I am getting the offense to the point where I know where the ball needs to go and what we are trying to do. I am looking forward to it because I have a week to prepare instead of two days. I am anxious and excited to go back out there on Saturday."
Leftwich, who was signed after Charlie Batch suffered a broken collarbone against the Eagles, is using practice to learn the offense and get his timing down with his wide receivers.
"That is the whole thing about playing quarterback. It's all about timing," said Leftwich. "You have to get some form of timing down with the wide receivers. I am getting the opportunity to get that timing down."