The Pittsburgh Steelers take on the Panthers tonight for their final preseason game, and as might be expected, you’re hardly going to see any starters on the field with more experience than the likes of Alejandro Villanueva or Ross Cockrell.
If you’re like me, though, that is still pretty exciting. I know a lot of people find the final preseason game pretty boring, and in general it is not a very good football game from a more objective perspective, but it’s fun to isolate on specific fringe players who are seeing their most playing time and to track their performance.
This is a big game for several fringe roster players, as Dave Bryan talked about. Perhaps the biggest thing left to be decided—in the eyes of some fans, at least—is the fifth inside linebacker spot, where rookie seventh-round draft pick Tyler Matakevich is looking to play his way onto the roster. He, Steven Johnson, and L.J. Fort are vying for two roster spots, and all three should see a ton of playing time.
I do want to see a lot from the backup offensive linemen in this game. While that section of the roster may already be penciled in, I still want to see a good showing from B.J. Finney, Chris Hubbard—who has spent most of the preseason playing out of position—and especially Ryan Harris.
Of course, the thing I’ll have my eyes on most is the debut of rookie first-round cornerback Artie Burns, who missed most of training camp and the first three preseason games while nursing a quad injury. He said the coaches have threatened not to take him off the field all game, so expect him to get plenty of playing time tonight…more than he’ll see in any game this season, you can probably be sure of.
For last week’s game, my game-day question was whether or not we would see the dime defense…we didn’t. And we probably won’t tonight, given the personnel that will be on the field. But there was talk of it in practice earlier this week, so I would be on the lookout for it anyway.
Another player I’m going to be watching quite a bit is Xavier Grimble, who I would imagine will get a long burn. His roster spot is still not assured, even with Ladarius Green on the PUP List. But let’s not forget that Jesse James is still in need of reps as well.
While the defensive line depth seems pretty well tied up already, I’d still like to get another nice, long look at L.T. Walton. I like the progress I’ve seen from him in his first two preseason games, but he could still be heading for the inactive list on game days, so this could be the last chance to see him for a while.
And for the love of all that is good and just in the world, please don’t let there be any injuries.