The first preseason game for the Pittsburgh Steelers is soon upon us, and with game action also comes my list of things that you should watch out for while tuning in. This is all, of course, just my opinion, and is certainly not a comprehensive list…but you already knew that. Anyway…
To start off with, we obviously want to see who is playing, where they are playing, and for how long they play. And one guy we definitely know is playing will be rookie quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who will start. The Steelers are not staking their future on him as a fourth-round draft pick, but they like his upside, and would like to see some poise, accuracy, and good decision-making out of him.
One area to watch could be the left tackle position. Alejandro Villanueva did not return to full participation in practice by Wednesday, so whether or not he is going to be allowed to play could be a question mark. If not, who plays first and how the time is split between Chris Hubbard and Jerald Hawkins will be something to note.
On a more global note, we will be looking out for how the Steelers mix up their coverages on the defensive side of the ball. In a recent interview, Keith Butler said that they want to emphasize man coverage a lot now to get the guys used to playing it and seeing if they can run it. So how much of it will we see over these four games?
Ryan Shazier is not going to play, so that should afford us a long look at second-year inside linebacker Tyler Matakevich. This is the perfect scenario, as we want to know if Matakevich could possibly fill Shazier’s shoes given the athletic gap. How will he hold up in coverage assignments? Chances are reasonably good that he could make a start or two in place of Shazier this season, so it’s important to know now.
One area that I think has been underaddressed is the need to see development from the tight end group this year, and frankly training camp reports have not been glowing. Jesse James hasn’t sounded like a guy who’s taken a step forward, and Xavier Grimble is still dropping passes. David Johnson may be their best all-around tight end when you factor in consistency.
How is Coty Sensabaugh going to hold up in outside coverage? The Steelers need an answer to this now. If they don’t like what they see, we could see them being forced to turn to William Gay to take over outside in the event of an injury. That could make Mike Hilton more valuable as the backup slot corner.
I am very excited to see what the second-string defensive line of Javon Hargrave and Tyson Alualu is going to look like in the nickel defense. Alualu has gotten very positive press during training camp, so I want to see it for myself. Let’s throw in L.T. Walton and Johnny Maxey as well.
I think it goes without saying that all the rookies and young players are notable entries here as well. That is especially the case, however, for T.J. Watt, the first-round outside linebacker who figures to get a lot of playing time this season. The Steelers are in dire need of a strong pass-rusher.