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Kovacevic: What's this? Panic in preseason?

| Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, 10:55 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is sacked by the Redskins' London Fletcher in the first quarter on Monday, Aug. 19, 2013, at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger reacts to a penalty in the second quarter against the Redskins on Monday, August 19, 2013, at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger avoids the Redskins' Darryl Tapp in the first quarter Monday, Aug. 19, 2013, at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin looks at the referees for a call against the Redskins on Monday, Aug. 19, 2013, at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.

Ben Roethlisberger wasn't exactly quick on the draw Monday night in Maryland, culling from the classic Ben-being-Ben playbook and causing coast-to-coast coronaries for Steelers Nation.

But he sure was quick to address the following annoying, amateurish question from the media after that preseason loss to the Redskins: Do Ben or his mates put much stock in outside forecasts or expectations of this team for 2013?

“Nope.”

Yeah, you're welcome.

Hey, someone had to ask, right?

I mean, with all of the doom and gloom one gathers from the Internet and talk shows over where these Steelers are headed this season — assuming they don't just forfeit all 16 games on discouragement alone — it felt entirely appropriate to ask if it's become a distraction.

To Ben's credit, he clearly took the question in the intended spirit, smiled and continued: “Well, we're two games into the preseason and we've got two more games to go, and then the regular season starts. We've got some room for improvement, but that's what this is for.”

Beautiful. Exactly. That's what preseason is for.

And, yet, the premature panic over the Steelers is stretching beyond the general public. Among other forums local and national, the fear of how the team “looks” in the preseason made its way into an ESPN.com commentary this week entitled, “Can Steelers Avoid Mediocrity?”

(The glaringly obvious answer to that headline is, of course, NO, given that they just failed to avoid mediocrity in 2012 by going 8-8 and, thus, meeting the official NFL definition of mediocrity. But that's quibbling.)

Glancing around the Web and gleaning from the various Jaworskis and Hoges and Mayocks on the tube, you'll hear predictions as dire as 7-9, even 6-10.

Sorry, but I'm not getting that.

And by that, I don't mean not accepting that it couldn't happen. Anything could happen in the NFL, as we're seeing with the Bengals being favored in the AFC North, even a Super Bowl pick for some. The same Bengals who employ Andy Dalton, a league-average quarterback in a league where average no longer cuts it at quarterback.

No, what I'm not getting is the thought process that's burying the Steelers before the first snap.

Can't be the defense.

Not after it was ranked No. 1 in fewest yards allowed, No. 6 in fewest points allowed and will have four personnel changes — Jarvis Jones for James Harrison, Cortez Allen for Keenan Lewis, Steve McLendon for Casey Hampton and this year's LaMarr Woodley for last year's LaMarr Woodley — that all promise to address the lack of sacks and takeaways.

Can't be Todd Haley's playcalling, can it?

Oh, please, tell me that the regional spawning ground of Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana and Joe Willie Namath isn't fussing over strategy that's aimed infinitely more at testing players than producing actual points.

If so, Roethlisberger explained the ABCs by describing the first series, which was handoff after handoff to Le'Veon Bell, as “just wanting to establish the run and see what we've got.”

When Haley fails to throw downfield in the real opener against the Titans, light the torches. In the interim, Roethlisberger was 5 of 6 for 66 yards Monday with a 26-yard strike to David Paulson. His shoulder's feeling “great,” he says, and the ball is moving with as much zip as anyone's seen in two years.

Can't be the offensive line, can it?

Well, sure, if all anyone had seen was this game. Maurkice Pouncey was way-out-of-character abysmal, and the tackles, Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert, looked little better. But this is the franchise's youngest line since 1957, and the tackles switched sides since last season. It takes time, and there's a ton of pedigree there. The 49ers had the same problem with a gifted group this time last year, only to watch them bulldoze their way to the Super Bowl.

Look, it isn't all sunshine and roses, either. There's “a lot of room for improvement,” as Brett Keisel was saying, and that needs to happen in a hurry.

But if you'd have asked in June what would be the ideal No. 1 problem at this stage, I'd say the cohesion of the offensive line.

Similarly, if you had asked what would be the ideal bright spot, I'd cite the rookies. Well, Jones is a beast, Bell is hurt now but has shown as much potential as anyone, Markus Wheaton has reached the point where Tomlin must promote him to first team, and Shamarko Thomas forced a fumble Monday.

Think the front offices of the Ravens, Bengals and Browns have enjoyed watching all that?

Nope.

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