Mike Tomlin didn’t mention it during his Friday press conference, but Rashard Mendenhall is fine. Mark Madden reported otherwise on his radio show, but like most things that don’t involve greasy food and Hawaiian shirts, Tons-o-Fun was wrong.
Suspending reality long enough to assume that Madden was telling the truth, a Mendenhall broken arm might have been the only way Jonathan Dwyer makes the final roster. Now, barring some mind-blowing football over next two weeks, he’s probably destined for the practice squad or worse: the Fred Gibson treatment.
While we wait for that to play out, some highlights from Tomlin’s presser:
- Remember last weekend, when Ed Bouchette wrote this? “The coaches believe Antonio Brown is not smart enough to grasp the routes he has to run as a wide receiver. I’m told his roster spot is in jeopardy because of it.”
Typically, guys too dumb to learn the playbook aren’t asked to take on extra roles halfway through the preseason. But that’s the case with Brown who, along with fellow rookie wideout Manny Sanders, will have more responsibility this week. Specifically, they’ll switch positions. To hear Tomlin talk, the move is more about seeing how tough Sanders can be in Hines Ward’s role of blocking wide receiver, but I’ll make the leap that Tomlin is also pretty high on Brown, too. Because if he wasn’t, he’d just have somebody more capable play flanker (obvious choice: Tyler Grisham*).
And there are the return duties, too: “We’re excited about Antonio Brown returning punts and kickoffs,” Tomlin said Friday. “And we’ve developed some schemes that will hopefully highlight his skill set.”
So, right: Brown’s not in danger of getting cut. Weird.
- Tomlin hasn’t yet named a starting quarterback for Sunday night but word on the street is that Ben will play and we know that Dennis Dixon will get “first-team reps.” Fine. I’ve been on the “Two-headed quarterback while Big Ben is out” train for two weeks now. No reason not to get Dixon more work if he’s going to figure more prominently in the game planning. And even if he’s only going to get a few snaps a game once the regular season starts, Tomlin still makes a good point: no need to make the Falcons’ job easier by announcing who’s got the gig.
As for why Ben’s even playing in Denver … well, I got nothing. I suppose you can argue that he needs the works, but a few snaps in late August won’t make any difference when he finally returns in October. And there’s always the fear that one of the five fat guys tasked with protecting the franchise quarterback forgets to block his man and Ben ends up a maimed, crumpled mess.
- Actually, that’s a cheap shot at the o-line. I know they’re an easy target, but Tomlin admitted that Starks and Kemoeatu have played well through two games, Essex has also been solid, and Flozell is still adjusting to the right side. And then there’s Maurkice, who all but has the job after blowing the doors off Justin Hartwig. Tomlin’s starting the rookie center against the Broncos and plans “to see a lot” of him, hopefully matched up against Denver fatbody Jamal Williams. Works for me.
- Tomlin also said that Tony Hills, Kraig Urbik and Keenan Lewis are all playing more consistent than they have in the past. That’s good news for the youth movement proponents, but there’s always the chance that the coaches go with experience over potential come cut-down day.
However this plays out one thing’s for sure: I can’t envision a scenario where both Hills and Urbik make the final 53, even if Hartwig gets the ax.
- Other notes: Lewis and Will Allen will start, ROBO-PUNTER will get another shot at ROBO-KICKOFFS, and Greg Warren will be replaced by Matt Stewart. I didn’t know Warren’s job was in jeopardy, but he has had two serious knee injuries and his weak ligaments are primarily responsible for the Steelers loss to the Giants in 2008. Frankly, I’m sorta surprised Deebo didn’t rip off Warren’s leg after that game and beat him with it.
* Look, I have nothing against Grisham. In fact, he’s seemed fine the few times he’s played. Just, you know…