NFL Nation: Frank Summers
Fullback Frank Summers did not make the cut. This will be the first game he will miss this season.
In his place, the Bills kept running back Ronnie Wingo active. With Tashard Choice released last week, Wingo will have an opportunity to play Sunday.
The Bills shuffled things at offensive line, where J.J. Unga is active in place of Mark Asper, and at linebacker, where Ty Powell is active in place of Jamaal Westerman.
Here's the full list of Bills inactives:
QB Jeff Tuel
RB Ronnie Wingo
FB Frank Summers
OL Mark Asper
OL Antoine McClain
LB Jamaal Westerman
CB Brandon Smith
It was the sort of look you would expect from a player after a tough loss. After all, the Bills' close win came only after Summers committed a critical holding penalty on a fourth-and-18 punt in the third quarter, leading to a Panthers touchdown.
"The call ... it all surprised me," Summers said. "Real tough call. On [special] teams you're trying to hold up people."
A squat 5-foot-9, 248-pound bruiser, Summers has the prototypical fullback build. Pittsburgh drafted him in the fifth round in 2009, and he played in three games before a back injury ended his rookie season. After stints on the Steelers' and San Diego's practice squads the next two seasons, Summers spent last season out of football.
The Bills resurrected his career this offseason, and after not playing an offensive snap on opening day, Summers was a big part of the game plan Sunday.
"Going into the game, we watched the film and they gave out the game plan. I looked it over. There was a big '21' [two running backs, one tight end] package in," he said. "I was excited. Felt like I could make up from last week. Given the opportunities, I just wanted to take advantage of them."
Lining up on offense for the first time in four seasons, Summers made the most of his chance early, rumbling for 34 yards on a catch-and-run on the Bills' first play from scrimmage.
His second half, though, was rough. Summers' special-teams penalty led to Panthers points, and later in the third quarter he allowed Panthers safety Quintin Mikell to strip-sack quarterback EJ Manuel, with Carolina recovering the fumble deep in Bills' territory.
"It was a down time for me. Football is not a sprint, it's a marathon," Summers said. "You have to let that play go and go onto the next, just make sure you don't make the mistake again."
Hackett celebrates: Immediately after the game ended, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett's victory celebration spilled out of the Bills' coaches box and into the press box, on his way to the locker room. Hackett, whom CEO Russ Brandon called "the Energizer bunny" in a radio interview last week, yelled "That's what I'm talking about! It's a new age, baby!" That sort of excitement, it seems, is par for the course for Hackett, at 33 the NFL's second-youngest offensive coordinator.
Winning atmosphere: After a close loss to the Patriots last week, there was a sense of redemption evident in the locker room following Sunday's win. "The character of our team is showing when faced with adversity," fullback Frank Summers said. "As long as there was time on the clock, we played. We all believed."
- Winnable game: This is the sort of game that the Bills need to win this season. They're not playing well, but neither are the Panthers. At home against a quarterback, Cam Newton, who struggled until the final drive of the half, you need to come away with a win.
- Manuel not his sharpest: It's been an up-and-down game for EJ Manuel, who has made some nice plays, including a 19-yard completion to Robert Woods on a scramble late in the first half. A few plays later, though, Manuel underthrew T.J. Graham on what would have been a big gain. Some growing pains for the rookie quarterback.
- Different look on offense: After playing nearly their entire opener in three-receiver sets, the Bills have made heavy use of 248-pound fullback Frank Summers, who did not play an offensive snap last week. Summers has played well, rumbling for a 34-yard catch-and-run on the Bills' first offensive play of the game. He also came close to blocking a punt in the second quarter. More time for Summers has meant less time for Graham and Woods at receiver.
- Mario Williams a factor: After going without a sack in the opener, Williams has three today for the Bills. The first was a bit of a gift -- Newton tripped over his own player with Williams in pursuit -- but the pressure has been there from the Bills' highest-paid player. That's a positive for a defense that has held its own so far today, with some lapses on third down.
- Coverage units an issue: The Bills have allowed a pair of good kickoff returns from Ted Ginn (29 and 36 yards), as well as a punt return where Ginn eluded several defenders before being taken down by long-snapper Garrison Sanborn. Getting the feeling that Ginn is ready to break one open in the second half.
For those players still battling for roster spots, the extended action for starters leaves them with their last, limited opportunity to make an impression.
The Buffalo Bills play their third preseason game on Saturday against the Washington Redskins. That will lead into a hectic final week of August, with the 75-man cutdown (Aug. 27), preseason finale (Aug. 29) and 53-man cut-down (Aug. 31) rapidly approaching.
Here's a look at three players on offense for the Bills who are squarely on the roster bubble and may need a strong performance Saturday to survive final cuts. On Friday, we'll take a look at three defensive players in the same situation:
The fourth-year receiver led all Bills receivers with 43 snaps in last Friday's preseason win over the Minnesota Vikings. The top four receivers for the Bills are set, but Easley could still earn a joint role on offense and special teams. He did his part on special teams on Friday night, playing 12 snaps in that phase of the game. However, the Bills could still choose to go with Brad Smith (who projects to have a larger role on special teams) or Chris Hogan (who has shown good route running and catching ability), leaving Easley off the roster.
Dickerson is a bit of an enigma, having spent parts of his career as a wide receiver, H-back/fullback and tight end. The Bills' new coaches tried him at wide receiver this offseason, but he approached the staff with concerns about shedding weight to play that position. He later returned to tight end and has been in the mix for a roster spot. Dickerson's best hope for making the squad, though, is his versatility. A strong showing on Saturday could put him in line for a role as a "utility player" on offense.
An undrafted rookie from Richmond, Gaskins is a "tweener." At 238 pounds, he played fullback in college but has taken snaps at running back this preseason. He showed some burst last Friday against Minnesota, gaining 16 yards on just three carries. Similarly, he'll have to make the most of the few carries he'll likely see on Saturday. Gaskins is battling Frank Summers, who is a true blocking fullback, and Zach Brown for the final spot in the Bills' backfield. Getting involved on special teams on Saturday would help Gaskins' case to make the roster.
- The McClain addition could be a sign that the Chargers are out of the Mike Tolbert talks. He is visiting in Kansas City. Tolbert wouldn’t necessarily be replacing McClain in Kansas City and the same could be true with McClain in San Diego. UT San Diego reported this week that practice squader Frank Summers would replace free agent fullback Jacob Hester. If Hester is brought back it would be as a backup and as a special teamer.
- McClain, who is a cousin of Oakland middle linebacker Rolando McClain, is a tough leader and a good blocker. He played in all 16 games last season as a Chief. He had 15 carries and 14 catches. The former Raven had 902 yards on 232 carries in Baltimore in 2008. But he has had a total of 89 carries in the past three seasons combined.
- Either way, McClain is a solid, tough addition to San Diego’s offense.
- As for Royal, I can see why San Diego is interested. It needs another receiver and the pickings are getting slim. Royal, who was reportedly close to signing with Washington to reunite with former Denver coach Mike Shanahan earlier in free agency, can help as a slot player and as a returner.
- Royal excelled under Shanahan as a rookie and I think Norv Turner would find a way to make him useful. A rotation of Malcom Floyd, Robert Meachem, Vincent Brown and Royal would be a pretty nice group for Chargers’ quarterback Philip Rivers to work with.
This may be a reason: ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports when free agency opened Tuesday the Raiders had a league low $639,966 of cap space.
Now, that will improve when the release of tight end Kevin Boss kicks in. Oakland could also cut linebacker Kamerion Wimbley and defensive tackle John Henderson. So, Oakland (which already cut three other players and restructured the contracts of several players) will get some enough cap room to sign a few players and sign their small draft class.
But the question for rookie general manager Reggie McKenzie is this? Why didn’t he do all of his salary-cap shaving prior to free agency starting. Players are signing at a fast rate. I know Oakland is going to bargain shop, but there is no reason why it should give other teams a head start for any player. The Raiders’ don’t have a starting quality cornerback on the roster and top cornerbacks like Cortland Finnegan and Carlos Rogers are already off the market.
In other AFC West news:
- UT-San Diego reported that the Chargers want former practice squader Frank Summers to be the repair fullback. Jacob Hester, if he is re-signed, would spell Summers and play special teams.
- Add the 49ers to the list of the teams that want Oakland receiver Chaz Schilens. The Phoenix native is visiting the Cardinals on Tuesday and the Jets reportedly like him, too.
- NFL.com is reporting Seattle tight end John Carlson will visit the Colts in addition to the Chiefs.
- The Raiders reportedly gave defensive lineman Desmond Bryant a second-round tender in restricted free agency. It would be a shock if another team tried to sign him to an offer sheet.
Meanwhile, the paper reported that this is Oakland’s eight-man practice squad: cornerback Sterling Moore, linebacker Jeremy Leman, fullback Manase Tonga, wide receiver Eddie McGee, offensive lineman Alex Parsons, tight end Kevin Brock, defensive end Mason Brodine and defensive tackle Jamie Cumbie.
The San Diego Chargers announced that they have signed six players to the practice squad and expects to add two more. The six who signed: linebacker Bront Bird, defensive tackle Charlie Bryant, tackle Steve Schilling, cornerback Traye Simmons, fullback Frank Summers and tight end Brad Taylor.
The Denver Post is reporting that undrafted rookie quarterback Adam Weber will be part of the Broncos’ practice squad.
The Oakland Tribune is reporting that defensive lineman Richard Seymour and receiver Chaz Schilens are practicing after missing time recently. Both are expected to play next Monday night at Denver barring setbacks.
It was reported last month that the Raiders could have interest in pass-rusher Aaron Maybin (the No. 11 overall pick in 2009) when he was cut by Buffalo. Maybin promptly signed with the Jets. He is now a former Jet. Wonder if the Raiders will look at him? I say this: why bother?
Biggest surprise: Although it was somewhat expected this week, Justin Hartwig's release is the biggest for the Steelers. There is no doubt Hartwig was one of the team’s top 53 players, but he was released after losing his job to first-round pick Maurkice Pouncey. Hartwig also made starter money, an estimated $2 million. Kick returner Stefan Logan was solid last year, but his lack of versatility made him expendable. Pittsburgh will be looking for a new kick returner as a result. Both rookie receivers, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, made the team. Most projected Pittsburgh would only keep one and try to get the other on the practice squad.
No-brainers: Running back Justin Vincent showed a few flashes, particularly early in the preseason. But a crowded group of running backs in Pittsburgh made Vincent expendable. There were also a pair of recent draft picks who never panned out in cornerback Joe Burnett and offensive guard Kraig Urbik. Because of need, both players had chances to contribute to their respective positions but never developed. Rookie defensive lineman Doug Worthington is considered a project, and he’s a candidate for the practice squad.
What’s next: Pittsburgh’s veteran-laden roster is pretty much set. It doesn’t appear the team will make any major moves at quarterback following Byron Leftwich's injury. But the team could search the waiver wire for depth on the offensive line, which was inconsistent this preseason. With Frank Summers’ release, the team may also be in search for a fullback.
LATROBE, Pa. -- Are the Pittsburgh Steelers in for a free fall or primed for a bounce-back season?
Coming off a Super Bowl title just two seasons ago, the Steelers have a veteran-laden group that looked very talented and professional during the first weekend of training camp. The team is healthy again and quietly confident about its chances to make a playoff run this year.
But there is an elephant in the room for Pittsburgh. Quarterback and two-time Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger will serve a conditional six-game suspension to start the season. It's the primary reason many pundits already have written off the Steelers and believe they'll have to wait another year to get back in the hunt as a legitimate threat in the AFC.
But Pittsburgh is relishing its role as underdog in 2010.
"I look at the times we've been our most successful have been when we're under the radar -- when people don't expect that much from you," Steelers left tackle Max Starks said. "I think for us, we just have a blue-collar mentality. We're just going to put our head down, and we're just going to march forward and let everything else drop where it may."
THREE HOT ISSUES
There is no handbook for what the Steelers' coaching staff is going through this summer. Roethlisberger's suspension has put Pittsburgh in a unique situation in which the team has to delicately balance preparing for Week 1 and the entire season.
In all likelihood, "Big Ben" will have his suspension reduced to four games for good behavior. But he will be forced to stay away from the team during that span, which means he will miss reps and practice time for at least a month before he returns. That is why training camp is so important for Roethlisberger. Meanwhile, the team also has to find out if Byron Leftwich or Dennis Dixon is the best option for the Steelers in the immediate future.
"We want to make sure that at the end of this thing that Ben has a productive camp," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "But as we proceed at this juncture, our focus, of course, is who's going to be playing quarterback for us the week of the opener. I like where the guys are right now."
2. Is safety Troy Polamalu back? Polamalu is a special talent. No other NFL player closely resembles his playing style or offers his versatility.
Last year the Steelers missed that versatility when Polamalu was sidelined for 11 games with a knee injury. Pittsburgh still finished in the top five in defense, but its inability to close out games in the fourth quarter without Polamalu led to several bad losses that kept the Steelers out of the postseason.
"He just kind of opens the playbook to anything you want to do," Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. "It's just a matter of how far off the diving board you want to go."
3. Can the Steelers stay afloat early? The first four to six games could make or break Pittsburgh's season.
A slow start, such as 1-3 or 2-4, will have the Steelers playing catch-up the rest of the year in a competitive AFC North division. But a .500 record or better during Roethlisberger's suspension could set the table for Pittsburgh to make a playoff push in the second half.
Everything shouldn't be put on the quarterback position. Sure, Leftwich or Dixon has to do his part. But the running game and defense also have to step up for Pittsburgh to win early.
The Steelers' first four games are against the Atlanta Falcons, Tennessee Titans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Baltimore Ravens. Tampa Bay is the only team in this group that had a losing record last season.
Although it's very early, there is a noticeable difference already in 2009 first-round pick Evander "Ziggy" Hood. The defensive lineman looks to be in great shape and more sure of his role in Pittsburgh’s defense. He's thinking less and playing faster, which could be a huge plus for the Steelers.
"He looks like a second-year player," Tomlin said. "He, of course, is markedly better than he was a year ago, as it is expected. The standards of expectations of him change, as it does everyone in his draft class. To this point, he's meeting those challenges."
Pittsburgh's defensive line needs an influx of youth as starters Brett Keisel, Casey Hampton and Aaron Smith are all over 30. Hood is looking to play a much bigger role in the rotation after recording only eight tackles and a sack last season.
I don't think you can truly pick a disappointing player a few days into training camp. But based on the opening weekend, I wasn't particularly overwhelmed by Leftwich.
The veteran quarterback shared snaps with Roethlisberger with the first team, and there is clearly a difference when each player runs the offense. When Roethlisberger was in, the ball rarely touched the ground. Meanwhile, Leftwich missed several throws in team drills that I felt he should have made.
But again, it's very early in camp. A stronger indication will come during the preseason.
- Roethlisberger may be in the best shape of his career. The quarterback often uses the offseason to rest his body and recover from injuries. But as a result, Roethlisberger usually shows up to camp on the heavy side. That's not the case this year as he's thin and looks like he's in midseason form. Roethlisberger said his offseason incident and time away from the team motivated him to show up in shape as a sign of dedication.
- First-round pick Maurkice Pouncey appears to be a good fit. He suffered a hamstring injury that kept him out of practice Sunday. But in the first couple of practices, Pouncey looked very fluid and was showing a mean streak by finishing his blocks. He will most likely play right guard this year, but Pouncey is also getting reps at center.
- Look for Pittsburgh to put a stronger emphasis on the running game, especially with Roethlisberger out early in the season. Starting tailback Rashard Mendenhall recorded his first 1,000-yard season in 2009 and should get a lot of carries behind this revamped O-line.
- Speaking of the running game, second-year player Frank "The Tank" Summers is getting a good look at fullback. Summers did not contribute his rookie year. But offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who rarely utilizes fullbacks, seems to be open to seeing if Summers can man the role. Summers made a really good block on outside linebacker James Harrison over the weekend.
- Pittsburgh has two potentially sticky contract situations, but neither player plans to cause a distraction. Pro Bowl outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley and kicker Jeff Reed are both disappointed they did not get long-term extensions. The Steelers informed both players before training camp that nothing will be done with their deals before the start of the 2010 season, but both reported to camp on time.
- Keep an eye on rookie receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown. Both are very competitive and making plays early in camp. Sanders, a third-round pick, looks smooth running his routes and coming out of his breaks for a first-year receiver. He may be able to contribute at some point this season. Brown, a sixth-round pick, is more raw but always gives good effort.
- Do not underestimate the addition of cornerback Bryant McFadden. He's played well in Pittsburgh’s system in the past, and McFadden can help fill one of the team's few glaring holes on the defense.
- Veteran receiver Antwaan Randle El was fielding punts this weekend and has to be considered one of the favorites to win the job. The kick return game is one area Pittsburgh struggled in last season. Randle El has five punt returns for touchdowns in his career.
Here are several notes and observations:
- The rotation at quarterback continued Sunday as Byron Leftwich and Ben Roethlisberger shared reps with the first team. As Steelers coach Mike Tomlin warned, the reps will be "non-rhythmic." Roethlisberger had another good day. He led the starters in a two-minute drill, capped it off with a strike over the middle to tight end Heather Miller for a touchdown. "Big Ben" also signed autographs afterwards for the second straight day.
- Rookie linebacker Jason Worilds is starting camp physical and aggressive. The second-round pick got into it with running back Isaac Redman during blocking drills for running backs against linebackers in one of the highlights of Sunday's practice. It appeared Worilds wanted to go at it again with Redman.
"They'll be plenty of opportunities for them to get reacquainted," Tomlin said. "If you're a linebacker and you're shy, you usually have a problem. I don't think [Worilds] has that problem. ."
- On the injury front, several players missed practice Sunday. Nose tackle Casey Hampton and rookies Maurkice Pouncey and Jonathan Dwyer all have hamstring issues. Linebacker Andre Frazier (knee) and offensive lineman Chris Scott (foot) have yet to participate in camp.
- To no surprise, Steelers linebacker James Harrison has been part of the two biggest collisions of training camp this weekend. The first involved a huge blow by Harrison on running back Rashard Mendenhall, who was catching the ball out of the backfield. Harrison timed his hit perfectly and knocked Mendenhall on his back. Another involved running back Frank "The Tank" Summers, who blocked Harrison to a loud standstill as neither players budged.
- As a parting shot, be sure to check out our Steelers Camp Confidential post Monday in the AFC North blog for more insight and observations from training camp.
» Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)
Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Under-the-radar needs.
The Ravens posted a tremendous No. 3 ranking in total defense in 2009. But often lost in that ranking was the fact Baltimore had just 32 sacks in 16 games, which was 18th in the NFL. The Ravens need to generate a better pass rush, either by acquiring help via the draft or getting more production from their current players. For example, three-time Pro Bowler Terrell Suggs suffered through injuries and had a career-low 4.5 sacks. He needs to have a bounce-back season. The lack of pass rush also hurt Baltimore's pass coverage.
Can someone who didn't kick in 2009 and who has bounced around with eight teams -- including a brief stint in Cincinnati -- really be the answer? Maybe Dave Rayner comes in this upcoming season and kicks lights out for the Bengals. But he wasn't the answer in Washington, Detroit, Miami, San Diego, Kansas City, Green Bay or Indianapolis. So it's fair to wonder if Rayner can solidify the kicking position during his second stay with the Bengals. Cincinnati hasn't re-signed veteran free agent Shayne Graham, which means a kicker could be a target in the NFL draft. The Bengals have nine picks next month and, at the very least, Rayner should have someone to push him and compete with in training camp.
Coming off a 5-11 season, the Browns have a lot of needs and it's debatable whether any are "under the radar." But while most of the conversation focuses on quarterback, receiver and the secondary, not many in Cleveland talk about the running backs. Last year Jerome Harrison led the Browns with 862 yards thanks to a great stretch toward the end of the season. But can the smallish Harrison handle 30 carries a week over the course of a 16-game season? Cleveland's new regime has its doubts. The Browns need another quality running back to complement Harrison. There is very little tailback depth on the roster after the team released veteran Jamal Lewis. James Davis is coming off a season-ending shoulder injury and the team acquired Peyton Hillis in a trade with the Denver Broncos. Hillis can play both fullback and tailback positions.
With everyone healthy, the Steelers do not have a lot of holes beyond the obvious like offensive line and cornerback. So let's dig deep with a covert need: Pittsburgh could use a good fullback next season. The Steelers struggled in short yardage and in the red zone, in part, because they lacked a devastating lead blocker to bust open holes in the defense. Carey Davis couldn't cut it. Converted tight end David Johnson was average but played out of position. Frank "The Tank" Summers was too green as a rookie last season. Adding to the quandary is offensive coordinator Bruce Arians' reluctance to utilize the position. Pittsburgh often uses three-receiver and single-back sets at the expense of fullbacks, and perhaps the Steelers' lack of talent at the position contributes to that. But if Pittsburgh finds a punishing run-blocker at fullback, third-and-short won't be such a daunting task next season.
Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker
Biggest surprise: Rookie free-agent tailback Isaac Redman did all he could to impress the Steelers this summer to make the 53-man roster. But the numbers game was too much as Pittsburgh already has three quality tailbacks in Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall and Mewelde Moore. The Steelers won’t hesitate to place Redman on their practice squad if no team claims him.
Recently released Carey Davis was the team’s starting fullback last year, so that also counts as a surprise. But Davis has been in the doghouse for Pittsburgh since last year, and with the arrival of rookie Frank “The Tank” Summers, Davis became expendable.
No-brainers: Linebacker Bruce Davis was a third-round pick in 2008 with potential. But he didn’t show much in more than a year in Pittsburgh, so the Steelers were tired of waiting for him to come around. This year’s seventh-round pick, A.Q. Shipley, came in with high hopes but struggled physically at the NFL level as most scouts projected. The Steelers might like to spend more time teaching Shipley the NFL game if he isn’t claimed. Others like Justin Vincent, Scott Paxson and Donovan Woods were not surprises.
What’s next: With starting guard Darnell Stapleton (knee) out for the year and on injured reserve, don’t be surprised if the Steelers search the waiver wire for some depth on the offensive line. That’s really the only glaring weakness Pittsburgh has entering the season. The center position behind starter Justin Hartwig is particularly thin now that both Stapleton and Shipley were taken off the active roster.
We will have more analysis Saturday as the rest of the AFC North makes its announcements.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
It doesn't sound fair for Pittsburgh Steelers fans. But it's the reality.
After losing longtime Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca in free agency last year, the Steelers received just a fifth-round compensatory pick in this year's draft. Pittsburgh used the pick Sunday on running back Frank Summers of UNLV, who was selected No.169 overall.
Although you never know, chances are Summers will not be as productive as Faneca. The Steelers will be happy if this late pick simply becomes a solid contributor. Because Faneca had more than 10 years of NFL experience, Pittsburgh by rule couldn't get more than a fifth-rounder.
The Steelers also chose cornerback Joe Burnett from Central Florida in the fifth round to help the secondary.
1:00 PM ET Washington Atlanta 1:00 PM ET Chicago Cleveland 1:00 PM ET Houston Indianapolis 1:00 PM ET New England Miami 1:00 PM ET Philadelphia Minnesota 1:00 PM ET Seattle New York 1:00 PM ET San Francisco Tampa Bay 1:00 PM ET Buffalo Jacksonville 4:05 PM ET Kansas City Oakland 4:05 PM ET New York Carolina 4:25 PM ET Green Bay Dallas 4:25 PM ET Arizona Tennessee 4:25 PM ET New Orleans St. Louis 8:30 PM ET Cincinnati Pittsburgh