Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin yesterday announced his intention to hold out a number of veteran players as the team prepared to face the Minnesota Vikings tomorrow night in the Hall of Fame game, the NFL’s premiere exhibition game that serves to kick off each new season.
Among those set to miss the primetime game are quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, wide receiver Antonio Brown, running back Le’Veon Bell, tight end Heath Miller, center Maurkice Pouncey, and outside linebacker James Harrison.
None of the names on the above list are surprising. They are either older players, returning from injury, or simply far too valuable to over-expose so early in the proceedings leading into the regular season.
Also likely to miss the game or be limited include wide receivers Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant, running back DeAngelo Williams, quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, and defensive backs Cortez Allen, Mike Mitchell, and Shamarko Thomas.
Rather than a smorgasbord of talent to display on their most important preseason resource, the league will be served what amounts to a junior varsity equivalent of one of their flagship franchises.
As much as this might be a disappointment from a more global viewership perspective, it is the right move for the Steelers as Tomlin attempts to navigate an elongated training camp and preseason schedule with a mix of veterans and youth who require different levels of preparation and exposure.
Tomlin has been open about his attempts to walk that balance, for example keeping Harrison out of pads until after the Hall of Fame game. He has alternated work days for his top two tight ends as they both step closer toward the end of their careers, and they will certainly benefit in the long run from the added rest.
As Tomlin recently reminded us, however, it’s often not as much about the player you end up talking about as it is the player or players who are getting the extra opportunities because of the player that you’re talking about, and that is especially true for third-year quarterback Landry Jones.
Jones will start the game as the third-team quarterback on the depth chart and the top two on that list sitting out. He is entering a pivotal moment in his career, in which it is incumbent upon him to show tangible growth in his development within the confines of an NFL stadium.
The same can be said for other positions, such as center with Pouncey sitting out, as there are a number of young interior offensive linemen that the team needs to see in a stadium. The depth at wide receiver, outside linebacker, and safety should all be tested as well in this contest.
While it may lack the anticipated firepower, both in name recognition and on-field explosiveness, the Hall of Fame game should be no less exciting for Steelers fans who are intent on following the development of the roster. The players that Tomlin named as those he is choosing to hold out are all established veterans with nothing to prove in an exhibition game. It’s time to get a look at some of the players waiting behind them.