Collier: If it's August, aim to contain carnage

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Heinz Field is expected to start filling up at about 6 p.m. today for the Steelers' second preseason game, where the primary focus of the fans will be to identify the stand-ins for the players who failed to survive the first preseason game.

By 11 p.m. or so, coach Mike Tomlin's team at least will be halfway through this four-episode exhibition meat grinder that serves as the NFL's depth-chart handicapping system, which reliably breaks off key pieces of every team's machinery for most of a month.

By the time Aug. 30 arrives along with the Carolina Panthers for Preseason Game 4 at Heinz Field, you might be preparing to analyze the pass rushing aptitude of Ikponmwosa Igbinosun, a free agent rookie defensive end out of Southern Connecticut State.

Yes, that Ikponmwosa Igbinosun.

Steelers fans tend to feel beleaguered by summer injuries, fixated on such matters as the squishy status of James Harrison's recently scoped knee rather than the torn triceps of Jason Hunter, a starting defensive end for the Denver Broncos, the opponent in the Sept. 9 opener.

Harrison could even be ready by then; Hunter will miss four months, minimum.

The defending Super Bowl champion New York Football Giants barely could manage a good night of sleep this summer at training camp, where poor innocent mattresses were being scapegoated for a series of back injuries, but not in the case of defensive tackle Shaun Rogers, who will miss the entire season because of a blood clot in his leg.

Chicago linebacker Brian Uhrlacher's recovery from knee problems is apparently going badly, Cincinnati's Jermaine Gresham just hyperextended his knee, Dallas tight end Jason Witten ripped his spleen against the Raiders, and on and on and on.

It's why I felt badly for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell this past week when, in an open letter to the league's fans, he was compelled to say the following:

"The health and safety of players at all levels of the game is our primary concern."

Good thing.

Goodell is compelled to say that by the league's seriously spooked insurance companies and their intensely compensated counsel, but it's awfully reminiscent of the final words a boxing referee says before the fighters return to their respective corners and await the opening bell.

"Remember, protect yourself at all times."

What?! If I had any interest in self-protection, would I be standing in this 20-foot square across from Mike Tyson? Be serious.

Goodell's running a league right now that has its own Head, Neck and Spine Committee, which is officially partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and has about twice as many plaintiffs as players, and that doesn't count the woman who is suing the Cowboys because she burned her butt on a hot bench as she took in a scrimmage outside Cowboys Stadium a year ago.

Her argument appears to be that the team should have had signs displaying some type of warning, perhaps something like CAUTION: Objects sitting in the Texas sunshine can get HOT!

Throw in the continuing headache that is the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal and the continuing lack of progress on a new contract with NFL on-field officials, and you have a pretty miserable summer for the commissioner.

The officials issue is especially vexing because if Goodell allows the season to begin with substitute officials, he's looking at an autumn filled with bad calls and controversy; if he reaches a settlement with the experienced officials, he's looking at an autumn filled with bad calls and controversy.

Tough one.

When you put the Steelers' problems against the NFL's entire troublesome political backdrop, a little Steelers/Indianapolis Colts preseason rumba tonight seems almost quaint, doesn't it?

Sure the club lost starters David Johnson and Michael Adams in the first preseason game at Philadelphia, and sure backup running back Isaac Redman is out with a groin injury, and sure Harrison won't play and Mike Wallace still isn't around.

But at the weekend, the Steelers took Rashard Mendenhall and Casey Hampton off the physically-unable-to-perform list. Doesn't mean they're physically able to perform, just that they're off the list, but it's something.

So don't be so worried about carnage that you fail to enjoy in the show tonight, because it surely has some intriguing story lines.

Andrew Luck, the first player taken in the draft in the spring, will quarterback the Colts for a spell, and with former Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians designing clever little plays for former Steelers third-down back Mwelde Moore, I mean that's value for your entertainment dollar.

You don't win in August on points; you win in August just by keeping the familiar faces available for the next perilous step.

genecollier

Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com.


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