The Pittsburgh Steelers have nine players on their 53-man roster, including four rookies, who have never taken the field for an NFL game before. Many of them will be making their NFL debut tonight, and playing in perhaps prominent roles.
I would expect to see very meaningful time from at least three neophytes in tonight’s game, perhaps especially second-year former undrafted wide receiver Eli Rogers, but also nose tackle Javon Hargrave, a rookie third-round draft pick. The third player could be a toss-up, though the expectation seems to be that rookie second-round safety Sean Davis is going to open up the game in the slot.
We may see Artie Burns take the field some as well, particularly if the Steelers utilize their dime defense. Burns, of course, missed most of training camp and only got back right in time for the final preseason game, where he logged extended time in the first half, including a touchdown-saving pass deflection that was the highlight of his performance.
The other previously unrostered players who may see some time tonight, likely on special teams, are safety Jordan Dangerfield, offensive lineman B.J. Finney, and tight end Xavier Grimble. Linebacker Tyler Matakevich may also get a helmet for special teams purposes as well.
With Cody Wallace out, and other injuries to account for, Finney is almost sure to dress, and in the preseason, he did spend some time serving as a wedge player on the kick return unit. He could also line up for field goals and point after attempts.
Grimble could log some time tonight simply because the Steelers may have few other options. There are only two other tight ends or fullbacks that are currently healthy, so if they need a third tight end, and don’t use a tackle-eligible, it will have to be Grimble. He also saw some time on special teams during the preseason.
But Rogers and Hargrave especially are among the new faces to the roster that are definitely expected to play a lot, and contribute in a pretty significant way to what the Steelers are trying to accomplish this season.
Rogers appears to have been awarded the starting slot wide receiver position, and given that the Steelers vastly favor running their offense out of the 11 personnel with three receivers on the field, and out of the no-huddle offense, he is likely to see a comfortable amount of playing time, as evidenced by the third preseason game when the starters played.
Hargrave was named the Steelers’ starting nose tackle, but he also lined up a lot in the nickel defense, and he is expected to be key on developing a defensive line rotation that the team has lacked the past two years.
Davis, assuming that he is used as the nickel defender, will also see a heavy amount of snaps, given that the Steelers defense primarily runs with a five-defensive-back look. Two of these are rookies, one a virtual rookie from a physical standpoint. All three could have a significant say in how this season goes.