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Old 13-09-18, 07:47
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28. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (13-4)

LAST SEASON: Steelers had little trouble rolling to third AFC North title in four years but flamed out in playoffs when Jaguars stunned them for second time in four months Joe Berger Jersey , 45-42 in divisional round. Defense led NFL and set franchise record with 57 sacks, but also had trouble getting stops late in season following Pro Bowl linebacker Ryan Shazier's spinal injury. Pittsburgh allowed 350 yards and 28 points after Shazier went down. Shazier has already been ruled out for 2018, leaving Steelers thin at inside linebacker. Secondary is being overhauled after veterans Mike Mitchell, William Gay and Robert Golden were cut. Offense finished third in yards and eighth in points but it wasn't enough for coordinator Todd Haley to keep job. Team wasted little time promoting quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner to take over.

THEY NEED: LB, CB, RB, TE.

THEY DON'T NEED: LT, C, DE.

POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: LB Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State; LB Rashaan Evans, Alabama; CB Josh Jackson, Iowa; RB Derrius Guice, LSU.

OUTLOOK: Steelers have leaned on draft heavily to replenish linebacker group Ty Montgomery Jersey , using first-round pick for one in four of last five years. With Shazier out and 2015 first-round pick Bud Dupree's long-term status unknown, it's likely Pittsburgh goes to well again at No. 28 overall. Cornerback would also make sense early, but Steelers could also tip hand about plans for RB Le'Veon Bell and QB Ben Roethlisberger in second and third rounds. Bell has yet to sign franchise tender, will head for 2019 free agency with no new deal. Roethlisberger said after loss to Jacksonville he believes he can play three more years. If Steelers don't believe him, they could take shot at landing successor early. They haven't taken QB before fourth round since grabbing Roethlisberger 11th overall in 2004.

— The Vikings-Broncos exhibition Saturday night features more intrigue than the typical preseason opener.

Denver QB Case Keenum gets to face his former teammates whom he helped reach the NFC championship before management dumped him in favor of Kirk Cousins , the jewel of this winter’s free agent class.

Keenum said Wednesday he’s eager to face the Vikings.

“Definitely. I mean, I got a firsthand view of how good a defense it is, so I know we’ve got our work cut out for us. It’s going to be a great test. I’m excited to go compete against a really, really talented defense,” Keenum said.

Keenum insisted he holds no grudges , either.

“No, man. I love all those guys,” he said. “This Saturday it’s going to be a competition and we’re going to get after it. I know those guys are going to be jacked to get back on the field just like I’m jacked to get back on the field. But Vonn Bell Jersey , no. No bad feelings.”

Keenum went 12-4 for the Vikings last season after injuries to Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater, but Minnesota moved on in the offseason, winning the Cousins sweepstakes with, among other things, a strong roster, a sparkling new stadium and a fully guaranteed contract for $84 million over three years.

Keenum signed a two-year, $36 million deal in Denver.

Asked what he admires about Keenum’s game after watching film of last season’s surge, Cousins said, “Any time you win 13 games and a playoff game you’re doing an outstanding job as a quarterback, but I’ve watched Case going back to his days in Houston running Coach (Gary) Kubiak’s offense, watching him in L.A. He won that job in training camp, and here, he’s just a winner.”

Cousins said Keenum does all the little things right: “There’s a lot of positives to his game.”

It’s just that the Vikings found more to like in Cousins’ repertoire.

“Case was a winner Reuben Foster Jersey ,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “He won a lot of games and moved well in the pocket. He’s a great teammate and made some outstanding plays for us.

“With Kirk, he’s been as advertised. He throws the deep ball well, very accurate, and takes charge of the offense.”

Cousins and Keenum figure to play a series or two Saturday night, then give way to their backups, and that’s where the real intrigue comes in.

Trevor Siemian won the Broncos’ starting job each of the last two summers but was traded to Minnesota after the Broncos signed Keenum.

Zimmer said Siemian’s 24 starts over the last two years and high IQ made him a perfect fit as Cousins’ backup.

Siemian said Keenum’s short stint in Minnesota is indicative of how important it is to have a capable backup ready to step in and run the offense should the starter get hurt.

“Case here, Nick Foles in Philly,” Siemian said. “Yeah, I think you’re one play away. My job is to prepare as if I’m starting and knock on wood, if I’m called upon, I’ll be ready to go.”

Siemian, however, might not even get as much work this weekend as another former Broncos QB Wes Schweitzer Jersey , Kyle Sloter, who signed with the Vikings a year ago after a surprisingly strong camp in Denver.

The Broncos are still holding out hope that Paxton Lynch is a late-bloomer and not a first-round bust.

Broncos coach Vance Joseph declared Lynch and Chad Kelly would battle it out for the backup job this summer, yet Lynch has worked exclusively with the second-teamers while Kelly has worked with the third-stringers so far.

Kelly, however, has consistently outshined Lynch and was clearly the superior quarterback in a recent scrimmage.

Lynch figures to get the bulk of the snaps Saturday night for Denver, and his performance could go a long way in determining if the Broncos need to consider signing a veteran backup for Keenum.

Notes: DE Clinton McDonald was getting his troublesome shoulder checked out again Wednesday. … Joseph said TE Jeff Heuerman, who has missed all but one day of camp with a sore left knee, doesn’t necessarily have to rush back to make the roster. “It’s early,” Joseph said. “I wouldn’t say that right now. That’s extreme.”

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