The Pittsburgh Steelers will play the Jacksonville Jaguars Friday night and after a lackluster showing in their preseason opener Sunday night in the Hall of Fame, we should see the healthy starters in action early on in this game.
Below is a list of seven players that I intend on watching very closely Friday night in addition to several other undrafted rookie free agents.
Jesse James – The young tight end had a rough preseason debut Sunday night against the Minnesota Vikings as not only did he have a drop that would have resulted in an easy touchdown, he also was stripped of another reception later in the game in addition to being flagged for holding. James apparently played with a heavy heart in that game after tragically losing a high school best friend, so we expect him to be back in the right frame of mind Friday night. Expect one of us to put James under the microscope after this game in an upcoming Film Room segment.
Jarvis Jones – Jones should make his preseason debut Friday night against the Jaguars after sitting out the opener against the Vikings with a biceps injury. A lot is expected out of the Steelers former first-round draft pick in 2015, who apparently has bulked up a little during the offseason. Jones should get several opportunities to go up against Jaguars left tackle Luke Joeckel in this game and we’ll be watching that matchup very closely. Additionally, we look forward to seeing how Jones sets the edge outside against the run in this contest.
Shamarko Thomas – Like Jones, Thomas should also make his preseason debut Friday night against the Jaguars. Thomas has missed some time during training camp with a shoulder so far this year and he really could use a lot of playing time during the preseason in order to have himself fully prepared to be the starter in 2015. Thomas has some mighty big shoes to fill now that Troy Polamalu has retired and we look forward to seeing the same physical play out of him that we saw last year during the preseason.
DeAngelo Williams – While he’s not likely to play much, Williams should get his first action in a Steelers uniform Sunday night. He’s reportedly several pounds lighter this year and will be the Steelers starting running back this year to open the season with Le’Veon Bell sitting out the first two games due to his suspension. Look to see if he still has that nice jump cut of his in the game tonight in addition to the short bursts that he’s been known for throughout his career.
Doran Grant – The rookie cornerback didn’t play a single snap on defense against the Vikings and that figures to change Friday night against the Jaguars. Head coach Mike Tomlin had positive things to say on Wednesday about the Ohio state product so he ought to get his fair share of snaps on defense this week in addition to a lot of special teams work.
Garrett Hartley – Hartley’s Steelers career begins Friday night in Jacksonville on grass and that certainly plays into his favor, according to his historical stats. Will Hartley be asked to boom the ball out of the end zone on kickoffs? Or, will the team ask him to take a little off in order to get the coverage team some work? We’ll find out very soon and hopefully we’re not forced to talk about Hartley very much after this game.
Markus Wheaton – While most of the fan base expects Martavis Bryant to overtake Wheaton on the depth chart this year, I wouldn’t bet on that happening by the start of the season. Wheaton will more than likely see plenty of snaps this year in two wide receiver sets in addition to kicking inside to the slot when the Steelers use their three wide receiver groupings. Assuming he plays Friday night, I want to see Wheaton work quite a bit out of the slot and that includes watching him run block in addition to him gaining separation off the line of scrimmage on passing downs.