Thursday, August 30, 2007
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- For starters, the final exhibition game is usually a race to exchange your helmet and shoulder pads for a baseball cap so you can watch the reserves compete for the final few roster spots.
Things are different for Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu. He wants to play -- and play a lot -- Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers so he can go up against his younger brother Chris for the first time since they were college teammates at Utah.
"Don't be surprised if a fight doesn't break out out there," Kemoeatu said. "My mom is supposed to be in town to watch the game. She told me not to beat up on my brother too much."
While Maake Kemoeatu starts for the Panthers, his brother is a reserve guard for the Steelers. Last season Carolina also faced Pittsburgh in the final preseason game, but the Panthers pulled the starters after one series and brother versus brother never happened.
"Last year we lost to them so he was the one talking. So hopefully this year we get the edge on them and hopefully get the win," Chris Kemoeatu said.
The Kemoeatu brothers may be the only ones who remember Carolina won last year's exhibition finale. Thursday's game will be best remembered for what backups play well enough to survive Saturday's cutdown from 75 players to 53.
"These guys are pursuing dreams that they've been dreaming about for an extremely long time," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "You can sympathize with that. You have an understanding of what its about."
It's been a hectic week for the Steelers, with only three days to prepare after Sunday's 27-13 win over Philadelphia.
Tomlin said the starters will play about a quarter against the Panthers, but Ben Roethlisberger might play less than that after throwing for 247 yards and an interception against the Eagles.
Receiver Hines Ward (broken nose) may sit out, while Willie Parker, who has only 14 carries in the preseason after missing two weeks of camp with a sore knee, should get some work.
It will also mark the final chance to audition for roles on the starting offensive line, which Tomlin has refused to identify. Kemoeatu, who has been working with the second team at right guard, could get a boost if he knocks his 345-pound brother to the ground a few times.
"It'll be a good matchup," Maake Kemoeatu said. "He knows what I like to do and I know what he likes to do. So I'll try to change it up and try to do something that's not in my character, maybe a little shove after the play or something. But it will be fun going up against him."
The Panthers' defensive line did little in last week's 24-7 loss to New England. Tom Brady had plenty of time to throw and led the Patriots on three scoring drives against Carolina's first-team defense.
The Panthers' offense has also struggled, but expect to see little of the starters Thursday. Jake Delhomme, who grabbed his side in practice Sunday, did little in practice the next two days, although coach John Fox said it's not a serious injury.
Backup David Carr isn't expected to play much because of a toe injury, so it's unlikely the Panthers' first-team offense will get much chance to turn things around this week. Carolina's starters have scored one touchdown in two games.
But it will be a big night for undrafted rookie Dalton Bell, who was promoted from fourth-string when Brett Basanez suffered a season-ending wrist injury last week.
Until this week, Bell was best known for his quarterbacks coach at Division II West Texas A&M: former NFL washout Ryan Leaf. Now Bell will be trying to persuade coach John Fox to carry three quarterbacks.
"For me it was helping him with his fundamentals, especially if he wanted to play at the next level," Leaf said in Wednesday in a telephone interview. "He's got a strong arm. He's big and he's physically intimidating for a quarterback. He works his tail off."
Bell and Steelers third-stringer Brian St. Pierre will likely be taking the final few snaps Thursday night when the lone concern will be determining the final few roster spots on both teams.
Only the Kemoeatu brothers will be worried about the score.
"We always got into it when we were kids," Maake Kemoeatu said. "He always wanted to be better than me, and I always wanted to make sure he wasn't better than me. It'll be a good race.
"The winner buys the other guy dinner, so it'll be a pretty expensive dinner he'll be buying me."