In his team’s first two preseason games of 2016, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has decided to hold quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, wide receiver Antonio Brown and running backs Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams out of action not only to preserve their overall health, but also to give younger and less experienced players on the roster plenty of playing time. Next Friday, however, that figures to change when the Steelers travel to play the New Orleans Saints in what is generally referred to as the annual preseason tune-up game.
“We’re going to make that decision as we prepare for the third preseason game and we recognize that they need the work inside a stadium,” Tomlin said following the Steelers Thursday night preseason loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. “So you’re going to see them, we’ll determine how much as we get closer to gametime and I have that press conference before the game.”
So how much will Roethlisberger, Brown, Bell, and Williams all play Friday night in New Orleans? As for Bell, who will now miss the first three games of the 2016 regular season following his recent appeal, I’m willing to bet he’s held out once again by Tomlin. After all, Bell can certainly use this extra time off to make sure his surgically repaired knee his ready to go by Week 4 of the regular season. Playing him against the Saints really holds no value being as Tomlin’s already letting him get banged around some in practice.
As for the other three offensive starters, it’s hard to predict exactly how long Tomlin will choose to play them all. Last year in the preseason tune-up game against the Buffalo Bills, Roethlisberger and Williams both played 10 offensive snaps before being yanked while Brown only played 9 snaps. In the team’s 2014 preseason tune-up game against the Eagles, Roethlisberger and Brown not only played the entire first half, they also played the first two offensive series of the second half.
“I know what Ben is capable of, I worked with him for a decade,” Tomlin said prior to the team’s second preseason game.
While quite a few eyes will rightfully be fixed on how long Roethlisberger, Brown and Williams all play against the Saints, I’m more interested to see whether or not fourth-year wide receiver Markus Wheaton suits up at all. After reportedly missing practice time during the offseason practices due to a quad injury, Wheaton certainly didn’t seem to have a lot of full practices this year during training camp. If he’s held out of the preseason game against the Saints, you have to wonder if there’s more to his injury story than meets the eye.
With Wheaton and Brown both being held out so far during the preseason, the team has been able to take a long look at second-year wide receiver Eli Rogers in the slot and so far, the Louisville product hasn’t disappointed. Will he burst onto the scene early in the 2016 regular season as a dependable slot receiver in the team’s 11 personnel grouping? It’s too hard to say at this time, but if there’s indeed something going on with Wheaton health wise, that might just very well wind up being the case with Rogers.
Friday night might just be another preseason game to some fans of the Steelers but I have a feeling we’ll learn quite a bit about this team from an offensive perspective on the FiedTurf of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.