The Pittsburgh Steelers look to right the wrongs of their first preseason game tonight as they take on the state rivals, the Eagles, in their second consecutive of two preseason games to be played at Heinz Field. They will be on the road until the regular season after tonight.
The first preseason game certainly did its part to provide more questions than answers, and so there is any number of factors to keep an eye on tonight as we take yet another step closer to eking out whatever the Steelers’ 53-man roster will look like when the downs start to matter.
Foremost is one of the few actually intriguing battles, I believe, at the running back position between a pair of third-year backs, Fitzgerald Toussaint, who was with the Steelers last season and played a large role in their two playoff games, and Daryl Richardson, a former Ram who had early success, but has been without a roster spot for a couple seasons.
Richardson certainly flashed in the opening preseason game, one of the few highlights on either side of the ball, but head coach Mike Tomlin said that he is looking for more detail on special teams from the veteran. It seems he is comfortable with his offensive abilities. As for Toussaint, the head coach wants to see more explosion from him in the running game.
With Ladarius Green languishing on the sidelines, it’s all the more imperative to see continued progress from the Steelers’ young tight ends, Jesse James and Xavier Grimble, as well as veteran David Johnson. The offense could take a step backwards if the blocking from the tight end position falters.
As I mentioned earlier today, Sammie Coates could use a turnaround in this game, but more eyes, I think, will be on Eli Rogers and Demarcus Ayers, both on offense and special teams. Rogers is the favorite to make the roster, but it’s possible that both could make it if one wins a job as a return man and the other can back him up.
Defensively, I want to see better hustle from all fronts, but particularly from the defensive line, many of whom—behind the starters—showed a lack of urgency. This was particularly the case from Daniel McCullers, who faced a heavy snap count well beyond his norm, but it was also true of others who figure to be on the roster.
I’m looking for Travis Feeney to make his in-game debut, and I want to see how he looks coming off the edge with his slender frame, but quick feet. A number of injuries there should give him access to quality reps.
The other rookie I most want to see more from is Sean Davis, who is facing a learning curve as the Steelers drill him into the slot. He must show over the next three games that he can handle it, or the coaching staff will have to dump that strategy and improvise.
And since it’s been a subject in practice, I obviously want to see Doran Grant at safety, but I also want to see if he mixes and matches at both positions during his playing time. The Steelers’ intentions for the second-year player are still unclear, perhaps to themselves as much as to the rest of us.