The Steelers wrapped up a Wednesday practice at their South Side facility today as they prepare to play the Seattle Seahawks this Sunday in the home opener. A couple of observations:
LG Chris Kemoeatu did not practice as he continues to battle a knee issue that has been nagging him since training camp. In his place, I was told that Ramon Foster practiced with the first team offense. However, I don't get the sense "Big Juicy" is in danger of missing the game this weekend. And the Steelers need Chris K's experience desperately at this point, with Marcus Gilbert set to make his NFL debut.
Also missing practice were Hines Ward, James Farrior, and Aaron Smith with veterans' days off, as well as WR Jerricho Cotchery with his hamstring injury.
Speaking of Gilbert, for what it's worth he was very upbeat after his first practice as a starter. He seems confident and excited to make his first start in Pittsburgh. I asked him whether he'd prefer to run or throw it more against Seattle, and he said "we'd probably like to run the ball more, a lot more than we did last week because we dug ourselves in a hole." Gilbert had some impressive run statistics in college, racking up 22 TD-resulting blocks in two years as a starter with Florida in the SEC.
LB Larry Foote made a trip across the locker room to chat with my colleague Mark Kaboly regarding his blog post; http://blog.triblive.com/steel-mill/2011/09/11/farrior-done-wrong/. Foote wanted to point out that he and Farrior rotated last season in the same manner that they did this past Sunday in Baltimore, and to dispute that it was an issue. Personally, I don't remember Foote rotating in all that much last season and it does seem to be a significant change of philosophy to me. I'm curious to see if that was an anti-Ray-Rice rotation or whether it continues this week.
For Seattle, WR Sidney Rice is nursing a sore shoulder and it's unclear whether he'll be able to go this weekend. Rice caught 10 passes against the Steelers at Heinz Field in November of 2009 with Minnesota and QB Brett Favre throwing him balls. Current Seattle QB Tavaris Jackson was on that Vikings team and admitted Sidney's presence this week "could mean a lot, give us some big plays downfield. He's a guy I'm very familiar with that I can count on whenever I get in some trouble. That would be big for us."
Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch also has a decent history against the Steelers, with 85-scrimmage yards against Pittsburgh back in 2007. Expect Lynch to get plenty of opportunity to best that total Sunday. Tavaris Jackson hinted in his chat with the Pittsburgh media that staying balanced as Baltimore did last week will be a key for their offense in order to keep the Steelers pass rush from teeing off. Lynch had only 33-yards rushing on 13 carries in Week 1, and as a result Jackson took 5 sacks last week and was battered by San Francisco's 'D'.