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PITTSBURGH – Brett Keisel looks ready for the deep end of the pool.
It might take some convincing for the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman's teammates to join him. Ten days before the regular season begins, plenty of work remains before the Steelers resemble anything close to a finished product.
The first-string defense allowed a field goal during a brief cameo and the offense mustered little in a 10-0 loss to the Carolina Panthers in the preseason finale on Thursday night.
Still, Keisel remains bullish. He returned to Pittsburgh for a 13th season rather than sign with rising Arizona because of the influx of raw speed during the offseason.
"There's a lot of potential, there is," Keisel said. "They did a good job drafting some good young talent. They've got to prove they can come in and be consistent. If you're a consistent ballplayer week in and week out, we can rely on you and trust you."
That trust needs to be built quickly after the Steelers (1-3) ended August with a pair of duds. Pittsburgh was outplayed by Philadelphia a week ago and the backups fighting for roster spots didn't exactly build a compelling case in front of a stadium that will have a decidedly different feel when the Cleveland Browns visit on Sept. 7.
Steelers third-string quarterback Landry Jones started, but did little to assure himself of a roster spot when the rosters are trimmed to 53 players. The former Oklahoma star completed 14 of 18 passes for 97 yards, but couldn't even get the offense in field-goal range.
Jones declined to speculate on whether he did enough to convince the Steelers they need a third quarterback on the roster behind Ben Roethlisberger and Bruce Gradkowski.
"I have no idea," he said. "This business, being cut, staying here, that's so far out of my control I don't even like thinking about it."
Linebacker Jarvis Jones provided the lone highlight for the Steelers, but it came at the expense of a few strands of his flowing dreadlocks. Jones recovered a fumble after a bad Carolina snap and sprinted downfield before being tackled from behind by Carolina center Fernando Velasco, who grabbed a chunk of Jones' hair and held on.
"He did apologize to me," Jones said. "It kind of hurt, though, unexpectedly."
The recovery came after the Panthers kicked a field goal during their opening drive, meaning Pittsburgh's starting defense — minus safety Troy Polamalu, cornerback Cortez Allen and linebacker Jason Worlids — gave up a score in each of its four preseason appearances.
"We definitely did some decent things, just a few missed tackles we could have made," rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier said. "I'm not worried at all. We're not worried."
Fozzy Whittaker ran for 91 yards and a 2-yard touchdown for the Panthers (2-2).
Both teams sat their star players with just 10 days to go before the regular season begins. The game was even plain by preseason standards, considering Pittsburgh travels to Charlotte to face the Panthers on Sept. 24.
"To be honest, vanilla is probably different for (Tomlin) than it is for me," Shazier joked. "He's been coaching for a while. For me, it's all brand new. He's already on vanilla ice cream, I'm still eating chocolate."
Carolina backup quarterback Derek Anderson led the Panthers to a field goal drive to start the game. Anderson arrived in Pittsburgh overnight after he and his wife welcomed daughter Amelia.
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger spent the night on the sideline with a towel around his shoulders. Carolina's Cam Newton and his dinged-up ribs did likewise. Newton said earlier in the week there's "no doubt" he'll be ready when the Panthers head to Tampa Bay on Sept. 7.
The Steelers' first-string defense can't exactly say the same. Tomlin sent all the healthy names atop the depth chart onto the field to start the game. The group included Keisel, who looked spry for a player who turns 36 in a few weeks. Tomlin wanted to see if Keisel could "swim in the deep end of the pool."
"It was probably a B-minus," Keisel said. "I've still got work to do."
Steelers running backs Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount — a week removed from being cited on marijuana possession — started the game on the bench but played sparingly in the first half. The team plans to discipline both players, but Tomlin stressed he would not reveal the punishment.
Either way, Bell and Blount will be heavily involved this fall. The circumstances required for Landry Jones to see playing time the rest of 2014 are probably too farfetched to even ponder. His preference would be to have a job on Monday. He might have one, it just might not be in Pittsburgh.
"I'm not confident of anything right now," Tomlin said. "I'll look at the tape and we'll make appropriate decisions based on performance."
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