The Pittsburgh Steelers will play the Buffalo Bills Saturday night on the road and this game should feature the healthy starters in the first half. This is the annual tune-up game for the regular season and below are ten players that I intend on watching very closely.
Michael Vick – Even though he’s only had two practices with the team, one would think that Vick will receive some playing time Saturday night against the Bills. Vick will be the back-up to starter Ben Roethlisberger this year now that Bruce Gradkowski is done for the season and unless he plays the entire game in the preseason finale against the Carolina Panthers next week, he’ll likely only receive around 50 snaps of playing time at the most before the start of the regular-season.
Doug Legursky – Like Vick, Legursky was signed this past week. He should have some familiarity with the offense, however, as he was on the team in 2012, which was Todd Haley’s first year as offensive coordinator. Will Legursky only play center in this game, or will he get some work at guard as well. He’s not likely to be in football shape quite yet, so his snaps might be limited Saturday night.
Tyler Murphy – Now that Martavis Bryant is facing a four-game suspension to start the season, Murphy, a rookie undrafted free agent, now has a good chance at making the final roster as the team’s fifth wide receiver. He played well last Sunday against the Green Bay Packers and thus should receive quite a bit of playing time against the Bills. He can really help his chances if he’s given the opportunity to play on special teams in this game. It should be noted, however, that he hasn’t been given an opportunity to do that in two of the three preseason games that the Steelers have already played. Look for him on the kickoff and punt coverage units Saturday night.
Josh Harris – Harris might be back in action Saturday night as he looks to return to the field after suffering a sprained foot in the team’s second preseason game. Harris has only carried the football twice so far during the preseason and quite honestly, we still don’t know what his ceiling is being as he had limited snaps last season after he was promoted from the practice squad. With Le’Veon Bell out for the first two games of the season, the Steelers will need Harris to play a supporting role to DeAngelo Williams early on. Will he play? We’ll see.
Ross Ventrone – The Steelers special teams demon has yet to play in any of the Steelers preseason games after being injured early on in training camp. You can’t make the club in the tub, so Ventrone better get himself back on the field Saturday night if he wants a shot at making the roster. I’d really like to see him get some time late in the game against the Bills at safety. Like Harris, we’ll have wait and see if he’s able to suit up.
Chris Hubbard – Hubbard has had a miserable preseason so far and now that Legursky has been signed, it’s not hard to speculate that his roster spot is in jeopardy. I suspect he’ll go back to guard this week after he failed to impress this past Sunday at center. He really needs a strong showing against the Bills and quite frankly, I’m not sure he has it in him. His ceiling is very low.
Darrius Heyward-Bey – With Bryant now likely to miss the first four games, Heyward-Bey figures to be the team’s No. 3 wide receiver until he returns from his suspension. The former first-round draft pick figures to get plenty of first half work Saturday night with the first-team offense and it would be nice to see him have a solid game. After only catching three passes last season with the Steelers, Heyward-Bey has four already this preseason. An explosive play or two against the Bills would be refreshing to see. I should probably point out that he has only registered 36 such plays during his career and four of those came via end-around runs. Bryant, the player whose shoes he’s filling, had 8 catches of 20 or more yards during his rookie season.
Kevin Fogg – The battle between Fogg and B.W. Webb sure has been entertaining. While he might very well still be outside the roster bubble, Fogg has his face pressed against the plastic based on his play so far during the preseason. It will be interesting to see if he gets inserted into the game Saturday night before Webb. Regardless, those two players have played almost the identical amount of snaps through the first three preseason games. Fogg already has two special teams tackles and I’d really like to see him equal that number against the Bills. Watch No. 30 very close in this game.
Cam Thomas – Thomas has been somewhat impressive against second-team offensive linemen so far during the preseason, but he should be. With starting defensive end Stephon Tuitt already ruled out for Saturday night’s game, Thomas will likely start in his place. Let’s see just how much he’s improved now that he’ll likely be going against the Bills starters.
Shamarko Thomas – While this Thomas has been good against the run in the Steelers last two preseason games, he hasn’t performed well in coverage. In fact, I have him down for allowing two touchdowns so far on four catches for a total of 62 yards. We know he can play well in the box based on his previous preseason film, so he now needs to show us more in the coverage department. If he doesn’t, veteran Will Allen might very well be asked to take over as the starter.