The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their second preseason game of 2017 Sunday night at home against the Atlanta Falcons and while quite a few starters will once again sit the contest out due to either injuries or a coaching decision, there will still be plenty of younger players worth paying close attention to throughout the evening.
Below are 10 defensive players that Steelers fans will likely want to watch closely Sunday night against the Falcons along with reasons why.
OLB T.J. Watt – You can’t leave Watt off this list just because he had a nice NFL debut last weekend. In his second preseason game, Watt figures to have a tougher matchup this time around in Falcons starting left tackle Jake Matthews, a former first-round draft pick. You can bet we’ll be breaking down the play of Watt after this game is over just as we did this past week.
CB Artie Burns – Burns sat out the preseason opener and all signs currently point to him playing Sunday night. While Falcons star wide receiver Julio Jones isn’t expected to play Sunday night, Burns still could get a nice test in the form of Mohamed Sanu whenever he lines up outside instead of the slot. Burns has been going against Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown all throughout training camp so come Sunday night we should see a very sharp defender.
S Sean Davis – It’s unclear if Davis will make his 2017 debut Sunday as like Burns, he also sat out the Steelers preseason opener. If he does play, however, we’ll be watching to see if his tackling has improved any and if he’s used any in the slot. The Falcons have a talented receiving group and that includes a very nice developing young tight end in Austin Hooper.
OLB Bud Dupree – After sitting out the preseason opener with an injury, it’s currently unclear if Dupree will make his 2017 debut Sunday night being as he’s still missing some team periods of practice. Assuming he’s given the green light Sunday night, Dupree figures to face off against Falcons right tackle Ryan Schraeder quite a bit and that figures to be a nice first test for the former first-round draft pick. It sure would be nice to see him play some opposite Watt Sunday night. Keep your fingers crossed that winds up happening.
OLB Anthony Chickillo – Chickillo is yet another young player who sat out the preseason opener. He’s expected to play Sunday night not only at outside linebacker, but early during the game on special teams as well. If he plays predominately on the left side against the Falcons, he figures to have an easy matchup as Atlanta’s tackle depth is really lacking. Can he be this week’s Arthur Moats?
CB Mike Hilton – Hilton certainly didn’t disappoint in the preseason opener. Not only did he do some nice things on defense as a run defender and blitzer off the edge, he also did a fine job on special teams. Hilton can’t allow himself to get comfortable right now even though he’s probably already made the 53-man roster.
CB Brian Allen – Allen had a decent NFL debut last week on defense in the 54 total snaps that he played. He didn’t however, crack the stat sheet in the 12 special teams snaps that he played and it would be nice to see him start making an impact in that phase of his game moving forward as he continues to hone his craft as a cornerback.
DE Johnny Maxey – While Maxey did play quite extensively in the Steelers preseason opener, he failed to crack the stat sheet just the same. Sure, he’s only the No. 6 defensive lineman on the roster, but with that said, it would be nice to see him show a little more development throughout the remainder of the preseason and especially being as he’ll be going against future furniture movers late in these contests. I want to see a few run stops Sunday night from him and a pressure or two as a pass rusher.
ILB Keith Kelsey – Sure, Kelsey is an extreme long shot to make the final roster this year, but with that said, I thought he had a decent NFL debut in the teams preseason opener and especially on special teams as he recorded two total tackles in that phase of the game. Kelsey and fellow inside linebacker Matt Galambos figure to be doing battle right now for a potential practice squad spot and so the rookie undrafted free agent out of Louisville must continue to take advantage of every snap he plays.
DT Lavon Hooks – Is Hooks ultimately headed for the Steelers practice squad this year? It’s really hard to say at this point, but with that said, he did play 11 defensive snaps in the preseason opener. In all honesty, I didn’t watch those snaps closely this past week, but do intend on doing so ahead of the Sunday night game, in addition to reviewing his play against the Falcons. He needs to start sticking out some late in these preseason games.