The Pittsburgh Steelers take on the Philadelphia Eagles tonight in their first preseason game of the 2012 season. In our first preview we took a look at 14 defensive players to keep an eye on tonight, so now we turn our attention to the offensive side of the ball and highlight 13 players on offense to keep a close eye on during the game tonight.
David DeCastro – With Willie Colon out, DeCastro gets the start at right guard tonight as Ramon Foster will flip over and start at left guard. The Steelers first round draft pick figures to be on the move to the left on a few plays, and that I look forward to seeing the most. DeCastro is as smart as they come, so he should know his assignments well. Offensive line coach Sean Kugler said recently that the first round draft pick has made good strides this last the week and I think he should fare well. How much DeCastro will play is really up in the air, but it figures to be at least a few series.
Mike Adams – Adams has been running with the first team for a little while now and the rookie will be given every opportunity to win the starting left tackle spot during the preseason. The Eagles like to play the wide 9, but will be without starting right defensive end Trent Cole in the game. Instead, Adams will likely face Darryl Tapp for many of his snaps. While Tapp is certainly not Cole, he does have several years of experience in the league and it should be a good test for Adams nonetheless.
John Clay – The second year running back figures to get a lot of second half work, and while we know what he can do with the football between the tackles, it is more important to watch what he does when he doesn\’t have it. Things like blitz recognition and pick-up are key areas that he has not yet shown that he has a firm grip on.
Chris Rainey – Rainey, it seems, has created the most buzz of any player since the draft. While diminutive in size, he more than makes up for it with his speed and ability to make plays out in space. While Rainey will not likely get many carries that force him to run between the tackles, he should get a few opportunities to work the edges. In addition, Rainey is an excellent pass catcher that can be used out of the backfield or split out wide. A wild guess is that he will see around 9 touches on offense tonight. In addition to his work on offense, the Florida product should get an early crack as a return man, which also should be exciting to see. 100 all-purpose yards is not out of the question for him in this game.
Baron Batch – Batch is fully recovered from his ACL tear that happened right before the first preseason game last year. Like Rainey, Batch is also an accomplished pass catcher out of the backfield. In addition, Batch is durable enough to run between the tackles and help in blitz pick-up, something he excelled at in college. He figures to get a lot of work after both Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer are done for the night and it will be great to see him finally hit the field.
Leonard Pope – Pope, in my mind, is still not a lock to make the 53 man roster. While he has great size and is a tremendous red zone threat, he often struggles with his pad level while blocking. You can bet he will be asked to block quite a bit when he gets into the game and could even see a few snaps lined up in the backfield as an h-back.
Will Johnson – While David Johnson will be the starter at fullback, Will has reportedly had a nice camp as well. He is expected to play extensively on special teams and could even get a few snaps as an in-line tight end. Don\’t be surprised if he even is given a carry in this game. Will is a converted wide receiver that has good hands and speed for a player his size, so I expect him to be targeted at least once or twice out of the backfield. Most importantly, watch his blocking ability.
David Paulson – The Steelers seventh round tight end out of Oregon will likely have his blocking skills put to the test as an in-line tight end at some point during the night to show how much he has or hasn\’t improved in that area of his game. Paulson also will likely see snaps lined up detached from the line, so he must show his ability to get off quickly and out into his routes from both alignments. Any special teams contributions that he makes in this game will be a plus.
Toney Clemons – Clemons is being given every opportunity to win the fifth wide receiver spot on the 53 man roster, but so far is dropping the ball, literally. He is a big, physical receiver that has shown in camp that he can get separation. This game will present an excellent chance for him to separate himself from the pack, but any drops he might have will be highly scrutinized based on his history thus far in camp.
Derrick Williams – The former Detroit Lions draft pick figures to be ahead of Clemons right now on the depth chart in the race for the fifth and final wide receiver spot. Williams has NFL game experience and can also contribute on special teams. Look for him to get work with the second team unit and contribute on special teams.
Marquis Maze – Being as none of the wide receivers battling for that last roster spot have ran away from the group so far, Maze still is contention despite his small size. He has a tremendous uphill battle still ahead of him to crack the 53 man roster and contributing in the return game the way Stefan Logan did several years ago figures to be his only shot. Maze should get looks on returns after Rainey, and he really needs a good showing in these opportunities.
Kelvin Beachum – The SMU product has been worked at both the left tackle and left guard spot in camp after exclusive playing tackle in college. Kugler said this week that Beachum will get work at both spots in the game in an effort to show his versatility. While all off the offensive line spots look to be spoken for already, a solid showing might have the Steelers start thinking twice about keeping veteran Trai Essex. In reality, Beachum is competing for a spot on the practice squad.
Jerrod Johnson – The Steelers fourth quarterback should get extensive playing time in the second half of the game tonight. He reportedly had a good week in practice and must show tonight that the accuracy and arm strength problems are now behind him. In college Johnson was also known as a quarterback that would lock on to one receiver too easily which led to him forcing throws. If he has protection, he must make sure he progresses through his read properly. His footwork was also in need of work out of a college.