By Alex Kozora
We’ve already looked at the rookies. By position, here are some additional individual storylines I’ll be keeping an eye out for while seeing the game live and re-watching it afterwards.
The team knows what they have in Ben Roethlisberger and Bruce Gradkowski. The only person of interest here is Landry Jones, one of the reasons I’ve spent so much time talking about him in camp. Thursday was perhaps his best practice in camp. He’s going to need to carry that level of play over to today to secure his role as the #3 QB. According to ESPN, 13 teams carried just two QBs to begin the 2012 season.
Jones has struggled with getting the ball out quickly, signaling of not going through his progressions or processing information. He’s a good bet to play for at least two full quarters and a positive outing is clearly important.
Brendon Kay will get limited time, probably less than a quarter, and will try to start building his reel to show other teams after he is cut.
There isn’t much of a point discussing Le’Veon Bell or LeGarrette Blount though I am excited to see Blount get his first carries as a Steeler. Much has been made about the fight for the possible #4 spot. Worst-case scenario, one of these backup runners will land on the practice squad.
Tauren Poole enters as the favorite but so much can change over the course of the next three weeks. Perhaps someone like Josh Harris surges ahead. It’s still very much a battle. Watch to see which one of these guys looks the best in blitz pickup. Aside from Bell, there isn’t a competent blocker that is guaranteed to make the team. Poole has looked good in camp while a guy like Miguel Maysonet has struggled. Also check out who gets first crack on special teams.
We’ve seen the Steelers get creative with Will Johnson in practice, lining him up all over the field. Let’s see how they use him in-game.
David Paulson keeps getting chances for the light to come on. So far, the room has been dim. Eric Waters has the athleticism to out run a backup linebacker down the seam. We’ll see if he puts it on display.
Like running back, keep a close eye on who gets work on special teamers. Who is on the punt coverage unit, kick return, and field goal protection? All underrated but important factors in trying to make a determination with who will grab hold of this spot. The games, not the practices, will tell the story here.
Markus Wheaton has a chance to show the entire Steelers nation the type of camp he’s having. One that will make fans feel a lot better about securing someone opposite of Antonio Brown.
Dave will talk more about Justin Brown and we’ve already covered Martavis Bryant with the rookie class. Derek Moye is going to have to give this team a reason to keep six receivers. He has the size to go up and high point the football but struggles to separate. Being big only gets you so far. Ask Matt Trannon, Micah Rucker, or Brandon London.
If the team does keep five, it opens up the chance to keep a receiver on the practice squad. Along with Moye, a guy like Kashif Moore will vie for a spot. Moore is a natural separator who gets upfield in a hurry. He could get a late look tonight as a kick returner, too.
Lot to think about here. Schematically, we’re going to get to look at the zone blocking scheme and a brief look at how effective it will be with Maurkice Pouncey in the lineup. There’s good reason to be excited about the starting five and tonight will give us our first, albeit probably brief, look at it.
Things will get interesting once the starters depart. Will Mike Adams or Guy Whimper open at left tackle? However, it does feel likely they will flip at some point during the game.
If Ramon Foster doesn’t play, Chris Hubbard will get a long look at left guard. Getting to watch him on tape is the first time I’ll get a semi-comfortable evaluation of him. Bryant Browning won’t make this team and isn’t eligible for the practice squad; he’ll be auditioning to land on a 53 in another city.
Will Simmons, Chris Elkins, and Wesley Johnson are all young guys that will be getting their first game action. Simmons figures to line up exclusively at right guard but Elkins and Johnson could shift around. Elkins could play some left guard while being the center for Brendon Kay when he enters. Johnson has seen time at three spots in camp, and frankly, I’m not sure where he’s going to log time. We’ll find out soon.
I hope to get to see Cam Thomas receive reps at defensive end. It’s unclear where he will play with the injury to Steve McLendon and Cameron Heyward. If the latter plays, Thomas figures to start at the nose. If Heyward sits, Thomas could start at RE.
The focus at nose tackle has been on Daniel McCullers. No one has paid much mind to Hebron Fangupo. While that’s justified – I’m not exactly excited about his prospects either – this will be his first chance to turn heads. Possibly with the first team.
I’ll expand on this in another article today but the gaggle of backup defensive lineman will have a chance to sort themselves out.
I’ll focus this section around three players: Jarvis Jones, Vic So’oto , and Howard Jones.
Two main areas I’ll be watching from Jones. Any improved knee/ankle flexibility and his first punch. Early in camp, I saw some new upper body strength that was making that initial punch effective. Haven’t gotten a good read on his bend yet. A groin injury hasn’t helped.
So’oto and Jones have had two different paths in camp. So’oto has been “teenager sneaking back into the house” quiet while Jones has made ripples.
One good showing could turn things around for So’oto. I have a feeling we’ll see some good and bad from Jones. He’ll win the edge and generate some pressure but he could end up on the ground several times. I like the direction the UDFA is heading but we’ve been excited about players like Adrian Robinson and Alan Baxter before. Then they became afterthoughts.
Not much to discuss with four of the five cornerback spots lined up and safety conceivably set in stone. Brice McCain gets the opportunity to prove why the team signed him despite an objectively terrible year in Houston. Jordan Dangerfield gets to knock some mouth guards out though I’m just interested in his coverage skills. We know he can hit. Can he cover?
Great opportunity to see who is running on the kick coverage unit and working as the backup gunners. Isaiah Green was used on first team kick coverage Thursday. Will that translate to tonight? Antwon Blake and Shamarko Thomas figure to open up at gunner but beyond that, there’s a fight to be had.
This is by far the best time to judge this group. It’s a live environment and the pressure is much greater than what can be worked on in practice.
Will Brad Wing’s hang times be as superb as they have been in camp? What will the rotation as the return man look like? Antonio Brown was listed as the first team punt returner on the opening depth chart. Will that hold true, despite him fielding only a handful of punts all camp? I wouldn’t bet on it.