In just a few days from now, the Pittsburgh Steelers will be playing in their most important preseason game, the game in which the starters are expected to play. Head coach Mike Tomlin has over the past couple years taken giving his veterans less and less playing time during the preseason, reasoning that they don’t need the reps, and the risk of injury is not worth the minimal reward.
The 10th-year head coach said yesterday that he expects the healthy players to play, and that is an answer that does produce some further clarification. But the reality is that that statement still leaves much to be desired with respect to who will actually play.
At a bare minimum level, it would seem to mean that some of the Steelers’ offensive starters who have been held out—namely quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, wide receiver Antonio Brown, and, at least for three games, running back DeAngelo Williams—should get their first and possibly only action of the preseason.
But when he says that the healthy players will play, that still leaves ambiguous the notion of what ‘healthy’ is when it comes to participation in a preseason game, and just what sort of position a number of injured players find themselves in.
Foremost in my mind is running back Le’Veon Bell. While he has not participated in live tackling drills during training camp, he has done virtually everything else, and would seem to be ready to play if the regular season were to begin suddenly. But is he ‘healthy’ by Tomlin’s preseason standards, for a player of his importance? I would think not.
What about tackles Marcus Gilbert and Jerald Hawkins, who sat out the last preseason game with shoulder injuries? While Tomlin did not provide an update on either, Gilbert at least was seen in pads at yesterday’s practice.
What about Jarvis Jones, Bud Dupree, and Anthony Chickillo? Only Jones appeared to be in full pads on the team’s website photos from yesterday’s practice. Perhaps he may play on Friday against the Saints. The others may not yet be ready to return to play.
I saw nothing of rookie cornerback Artie Burns either, who may be heading for a full preseason of no action. That is exactly the opposite of what the first-round pick needed, given how raw he still was coming into the league, and considering the lack of depth at the position.
Markus Wheaton has yet to participate in the preseason, and he is one of the Steelers’ starting wide receivers—presumably, anyway. He has missed a great deal of time due to injury, and while his omission has given valuable reps to other players, he could still use them himself.
Cody Wallace also suffered a possible hyperextended knee in the team’s last preseason game. I did not see him in practice photos, and might suspect that he will not play. Hopefully Tomlin’s pre-game press conference will offer much-desired clarity to the situations of a number of players.