By BOB LABRIOLA
They didn't get to skip practice and go to the movies during training camp, but they did get a little video presentation from Coach Mike Tomlin on Tuesday they might have found more valuable.
The Steelers' fourth preseason game is at 8 p.m. tonight against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium, and it's appropriate to refer to it as a finale because for many of them it represents a last chance.
The Steelers go to Charlotte with 75 players on their roster, and within 24 hours after the game against the Panthers is over that number will have been reduced to 53. Just because the front-line players only will make cameo appearances doesn't mean this trip is meaningless.
"This is the last opportunity for some guys to state their case for their roles or potential presence on this football team," said Tomlin. "It is critical."
And that's not just coach-speak, either, as Tomlin's little video presentation on Tuesday revealed. The clips he showed that day in a team meeting were of several guys who used last year's preseason finale to squeeze themselves onto the 53-man roster as well as it featuring some of the guys who used that game to cut themselves.
"Going into that game, there were guys who were fence riders, or really, quite frankly, on the outside looking in," said Tomlin about the preseason finale a year ago. "A guy like Pat Bailey ran down and made three or four tackles on kickoff in that game a year ago, and not only made our football team but got a hat (on game day) every week because of that kind of performance.
"Arnold Harrison goes down (with a knee injury) on the second play of the third quarter, and a guy named Donovan Woods goes in and plays mack-linebacker and had never played mack linebacker before. He got a sack, got more pressure on the quarterback, leapt over a blocker to do it, and showed some things that we, quite frankly, didn't know he had. And he was up and down on our roster a year ago because of that performance.
"So by no means do we take this game for granted. Some people are going to distinguish themselves positively and negatively. We're just going to do a great job of going in with an open mind and with the understanding that some people are going to take advantage of the situation and maybe some others aren't. And we're willing to call it how we see it."
Included on the list of players whose status could depend upon tonight's game are return specialist Stefan Logan, tight end David Johnson, running backs Isaac Redman and Frank Summers, safeties Ryan Mundy and Roy Lewis, center A.Q. Shipley, tackles Jason Capizzi and Tony Hills, wide receivers Brandon Williams and Shaun McDonald and linebacker Bruce Davis, among others.
The Steelers have not settled definitively on the numbers they plan to keep at running back, wide receiver, offensive line, linebacker and cornerback. And then even for the players who may have a roster spot clinched, their role on the team for the upcoming season could change based on what they show tonight.
"It's a complete body of work, but we like to do business with guys on the rise, guys who are showing improvement," said Tomlin by way of partially explaining the decision-making process.
"You like guys on the rise. Guys who are improving, guys who are taking coaching and eliminating mistakes, playing faster, playing more violently, when you talk about some of the guys who are just getting their first exposure to professional football. If they're going to be a guy who makes a run or potentially makes this team for the first time, it'll usually be because they're improving, and they'll be a guy on the rise. And this fourth performance will probably be their best one."