The best competition in the fourth preseason game is rarely between opposing teams. Instead, bubble players on every NFL team will battle each other for the few available spots on each team’s final roster or even ten-man practice squad. The Pittsburgh Steelers are no different, and while their roster is mostly settled at this point, there are still a few spots that could be up for grabs heading into tonight’s final preseason contest.
1. CB Kevin Fogg vs. CB B.W. Webb
We’ve detailed this battle extensively throughout the preseason, and I still believe Webb has the upper hand. There are plenty of reasons to keep the incumbent Webb; he has a better grasp on the defense, he’s more experienced, he’s versatile (slot or boundary corner), he’s a strong leader in the locker room, and he’s an excellent special teams player.
Fogg has shown exceptional ball skills and good awareness in coverage, especially on jump balls, but he’s susceptible to getting beat underneath from off coverage. Both players deserve a spot on the team, but the Steelers will likely keep six cornerbacks, meaning the loser of this battle will probably be waived.
2. OT Kelvin Palmer vs. OT Mitchell Van Dyk
These two have swapped second team reps during the preseason, but I think Van Dyk is the favorite heading into tonight. He showed he could play a little guard against the Minnesota Vikings, and hasn’t struggled as much as Palmer when asked to switch sides on the offensive line. Palmer has solid feet, but can be susceptible to power moves and counters inside. Both are long shots for the final roster, but a spot on the practice squad and a chance to continue an NFL career could be up for grabs tonight.
3. P Jordan Berry vs. P Brad Wing
Berry has come on strong of late, launching punts with good distance and continuing to show excellent hang time. Wing has been solid as well, consistently hitting the ball well, which was a struggle last season. Both are averaging just over 49 yards a boot, and have been strong in their directional punting as well. Pittsburgh held both on the 75-man roster for the final preseason game for a reason, and how each punter performs tonight under pressure could determine who stays with the team long-term this year.
4. WR Shakim Phillips vs. WR Tyler Murphy
One of the more underrated battles on the team, two former Boston College studs face off in hopes of being granted Martavis Bryant’s roster spot while the second-year receiver serves his four-game suspension. Phillips has been up-and-down, showing excellent body control in the air and along the boundary, but inconsistent hands. Murphy has displayed a good understanding of route concepts from the slot, as well as the ability to make plays after the catch.
Phillips has the obvious size and reps advantage at the position, but Murphy has impressed the coaching staff this preseason. Tonight’s game could determine the #5 wide receiver spot for Week 1, and while either player will likely be waived when Bryant returns, four weeks of playing time represents an extended period of time to show other NFL teams what you’re capable of.
5. S Alden Darby vs. S Jordan Dangerfield vs. S Gerod Holliman vs. S Ross Ventrone
They might be competing for a spot on the 53-man roster, or they might be competing for a spot on the practice squad, but all three players must bring their A-game tonight. Darby has received the most second, and even first team reps (when players were out injured), while Dangerfield has perhaps been the most impressive on the field.
A late addition to the camp roster who performed well with the team last year, Dangerfield loves contact and is a very willing run supporter from his safety spot. He’s fourth on the team in tackles with 15, well ahead of Holliman’s three stops. The seventh-round pick has struggled in camp practices, which has led to minimal game reps, even with the third team defense.
Ventrone is the steady veteran who hasn’t seen the field on defense this preseason after being injured in the second practice of the year. Ventrone is healthy and probably the team’s best special teams option at the position, but I would imagine he’ll play a heavy dose of snaps at safety tonight against Carolina.
None of the four are great athletes, but Darby and Dangerfield both play with a fiery edge to their game and violent tendencies in the box. Ventrone has the special teams edge, while we all await what Holliman can potentially bring to the table. Easily one of the best battles to watch tonight.