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Fringe Steelers must seize chances where they can

| Thursday, Aug. 14, 2008

It'll be played in Canada, but it's still just a preseason game.

Nothing more, nothing less, which means tonight's Steelers-Bills clash in Toronto will be nothing less than critical for those who would be Steelers.

There's more at stake tonight than the punting derby between Mitch Berger, who enjoys home-country advantage in this game, and Paul Ernster.


Wide receivers Willie Reid and Dallas Baker - A spot seemingly exists at the position behind Santonio Holmes, Hines Ward, Nate Washington and Limas Sweed. But to this point, neither Reid nor Baker have established themselves as worthy.

Reid's chances at becoming a star returner, something he was drafted to do in the third round in 2006, have all but evaporated. But he still has a chance to salvage himself as a pass-catcher if the brief but noticeable flash he produced this week can be sustained.

Baker is J.A.G. - scouting vernacular for "just a guy."

Chances are, the fifth receiver will come from another team's final cuts.

But with Byron Leftwich firing fastballs as the No. 2 passer, there's still time for someone on the current roster to make a compelling argument.

Offensive tackle Tony Hills - It's been difficult to determine if Hills, a fourth-round pick from Texas, is John Jackson or Fred Gibson/Ryan McBean.

Jackson was so overwhelmed as a rookie during a preseason disaster in New Orleans that he became convinced he'd be cut, to the extent that he was shaking hands and saying good-byes in the locker room afterward. But the Steelers kept Jackson, a 10th round pick in 1988, and he wound up sticking around until 1997.

Gibson, a fourth-round pick out of Georgia in 2005, failed to make the team as a rookie, something McBean did as a fourth-rounder from Oklahoma State last season and will again this year.

Defensive backs Roy Lewis and Ryan Mundy - Their fates may ultimately be tied to those of veteran safety Tyrone Carter and/or third-year safety Anthony Smith.

Smith's turbulent 2007 confirmed that he isn't cut out for free safety. The argument could be made, thus, that the backward steps he took were due mostly to his playing out of position.

He needs to establish that he can contribute at strong safety to secure his spot.

That shouldn't be a problem given Smith's game and Smith's makeup.

But he's off to a poor start.

Carter, it was thought, would be pushed hard by Mundy, a sixth-round pick from West Virginia, with the better man emerging. But Mundy's high-ankle sprain has put his bid on hold.

Or has it?

Rookie-free agent offensive lineman Darnell Stapleton underwent arthroscopic surgery in training camp last year and still made the team.

Lewis, meanwhile, has transformed himself from a rookie-free agent cornerback from Washington into a rookie-free agent cornerback/safety.

His grasp of position flexibility has not gone unnoticed.

Defensive lineman Scott Paxson - Is his third camp the charm?

Paxson is pushing hard along the defensive line, and was given a couple of reps with the No. 1 kickoff team this week. He isn't the fastest man on the planet, but Paxson can bust a wedge.

That helps.

He could push veteran Nick Eason and/or veteran Travis Kirschke for a roster spot.

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