While the headlines today should be on this being the first game in 19 months for Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant, this second preseason game is also a bit one for another pair of Steelers wide receivers, neither of whom were dressed for the first game.
Third-year player Sammie Coates spent all of training camp up until Wednesday on the Physically Unable to Perform list, but he has gotten in three good practices since then and appears to be ready to go for this evening, which is big for him, and potentially big for the team.
If he doesn’t live up to what the Steelers are looking for him to be, however, his roster spot could easily be in jeopardy, thanks in large part to another wide receiver who did not dress for that first game, Justin Hunter. A fifth-year veteran signed in free agency, he did some impressive things in training camp, but he has a history of not carrying that into stadiums.
It is incumbent upon the former second-round draft pick to show that he can make that transition with this team from the practice field to the stadium, and after missing the first game with a minor undisclosed injury, it appears that he too is ready to make his season debut in the second game.
It is pretty amusing to think about the major arsenal upgrade that this preseason offense is seeing at the wide receiver position from the first game to the second, even without Antonio Brown scheduled to appear in either one.
The Steelers are going to get Bryant, Coates, and Hunter on the field for the first time this season. In comparison, the Steelers’ starters for the opener, aside from JuJu Smith-Schuster, who got injured on the second drive, were Darrius Heyward-Bey and Cobi Hamilton.
Because of how deep this wide receiver stable is, it’s looking increasingly likely that the two primary starters with the first group in the preseason game will not even make the final 53-man roster, potentially being displaced by those who will start this second game.
But one thing that I will be interested to see, particularly from Coates and Hunter, is what kind of work they might be given out of the slot. Will they put Bryant, Coates, and Hunter all on the field at the same time? with Smith-Schuster out, it gets a little easier, but Eli Rogers is still the starting slot option.
In essence, this could prove to be the first stage of a three-pronged battle between Coates and Hunter for one roster spot. It’s possible that both, or even neither, end up making the team, but it’s equally likely, if not more so, that only one will. And the preseason games will go a long way toward determining who stays, so this is just getting started.