In essence, the team that took the field Sunday in the Hall of Fame Game was not the Pittsburgh Steelers team that will take the field Sundays this fall. Predicted to march on a deep playoff run, with potential Super Bowl aspirations, the team was led Sunday by a starting quarterback named Landry Jones and a cast of others who may not even make the final 53-man roster. That’s exactly what the preseason is though, a chance to look at what’s beyond the starting units and if pressed into action, they’ll perform at a championship level.
Of course, the “Killer B’s” trio of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell were held out, as the potential risks of them getting injured in a meaningless game would send seismic waves rippling across their entire season. Coach Mike Tomlin is hoping a different cast of characters Friday night will result in a different outcome than the 14-3 loss the team suffered on Sunday.
Some much more familiar faces should be seen in this next game, including Shamarko Thomas, Jarvis Jones, DeAngelo Williams, Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant, who is rumored to have locked up the starting spot across from All-Pro Brown. Even Roethlisberger is predicted to get 10-12 snaps in, but the team could potentially hold him back from less, considering they just lost a valuable asset for the year in kicker Shaun Suisham. Recently signed Garrett Hartley will look to make his debut in a Steelers’ uniform and fill the reliable shoes of Suisham so it’ll definitely be a game to pay attention to. Also, James Harrison practiced for the first time all camp this week so he could potentially see some snaps as well. I, for one, am overly-anxious to get a look at Jones, who’s been rumored to have bulked up to 258 pounds and looks to dispel notions he’s a bust after two lackluster seasons removed from being a first round draft pick.
For some Steelers like rookie Jesse James, it’ll be a chance to put a forgetful debut behind them, as in Sunday’s game he dropped two enormous passes, one of which was a walk-in touchdown on the goal line. To that, Tomlin didn’t bat an eye, referencing another Steelers rookie in 2007 that also had a rough start in Lawrence Timmons, who’s transitioned into a Pro Bowler.
“It provides a window and a ray of light, if you will, for those who are mentally weak enough to need it,” Tomlin said, according to Bob Labriola of Steelers.com.
“It is just how it goes. Some starts are better than others. Regardless of how you start is not going to define you, and I just use Lawrence as an example of that.”
It will be an interesting test for the team, as the Jaguars look to be improved from a season ago, led by second-year rising QB Blake Bortles. He now has a viable threat in the ground game as well in rookie tailback T.J. Yeldon, who reminds of Bell in a way with his combination of slashing-yet-powerful running style. Their young receiving corps will be a good test for very green secondary of the team as well. Tomlin said the depth of the team will be tested but that he’ll let the door open for all healthy players to play, minus presumably Brown and Bell.