The Pittsburgh Steelers will open their 2017 preseason Friday night on the road against the New York Giants and while quite a few starters will 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 game.
Below are 10 defensive players that Steelers fans will likely want to watch closely Friday night against the Giants along with reasons why.
OLB T.J. Watt – We don’t know for sure if veteran outside linebacker James Harrison will play Friday night but even if he does, he won’t be on the field for long. Because of that and when you consider that Watt was the team’s first-round draft pick this year, it’s easy to suggest he’ll get a lot of playing time against the Giants and especially being as it looks like the team might be short a few outside linebacker bodies. Giants left tackle Ereck Flowers is reportedly having problems with technique flaws and inconsistency during training camp so far and it will be interesting to see him pass protect against Watt early in the game.
NT L.T. Walton – Why is the third-year Walton on this list? In short, we’re likely going to see him play some nose tackle in the team’s base defense Friday night with the second-team. The Central Michigan product has been around long enough now that he should know what’s going on and thus he should be able to play without thinking too terribly much.
DE Tyson Alualu – While Alualu is an established NFL veteran, this is his first year in Pittsburgh. The former first-round draft pick will be expected to play a big relief role for the Steelers in 2017 and being as he’s reportedly had a nice training camp to date, one would expect him to play well in likely limited action against Giants.
CB Coty Sensabaugh – Sensabaugh, for all practical purposes, is in the same boat as Alualu is as he is also new to the Steelers, but not new to the NFL. With so many cornerbacks expected to be sidelined with injuries Friday night, Sensabaugh might have to start on the outside and play most of the first half as well. Head coach Mike Tomlin recently said he’s looking forward to seeing Sensabaugh play Friday so we should as well.
ILB Tyler Matakevich – “Dirty Red” might just start Friday night with Ryan Shazier currently dealing with an injury. So far during training camp, Matakevich has been working as the primary backup to not only Shazier, but fellow starter Vince Williams as well. Matakevich figures to see a lot of playing time in the first half and it will be interesting to see what kind of one-year jump he’s made in his development. He should have a lot of early inside tackles in this game.
OLB Anthony Chickillo – Chickillo needs to finally show that he’s more than just a training camp practice all-star. Like the aforementioned Walton, this is his third year with the Steelers and being as he’ll likely be facing future furniture movers Friday night, he’ll be expected to play well not only against the run, but as a pass rusher in addition.
CB Mike Hilton – Is Hilton this year’s widely unknown camp phenom? It surely sounds like it so far. The undersized cornerback will likely see a lot of playing time in the slot Friday night and it will be interesting to see if he’s able to make plays like the ones he’s been making so far at Saint Vincent College. Hilton will also need to shine on special teams during the preseason if he’s going to ultimately make this year’s 53-man roster so be on a lookout for him in that phase of the game as well. Will we see him as a dimeback in this game?
DE Johnny Maxey – Maxey ended the 2016 season on the Steelers 53-man roster. That, however, doesn’t guarantee he’ll stick this year as the team’s sixth defensive lineman. The Mars College product and former undrafted free agent figures to receive some midgame burn against the Giants at defensive end and I’ll be watching him closely. You should as well.
OLB Farrington Huguenin – While Huguenin isn’t likely to make this year’s 53-man roster, he still could wind up making the practice squad. Regardless, if rookie draft pick Keion Adams doesn’t play Friday night because of injury, Huguenin should get extra opportunities to shine at outside linebacker and probably even more important, on special teams. Assuming he’s over his most-recent injury that caused him to miss practice time during training camp, Huguenin will likely get his burn during the second half.
CB Brian Allen – Even though Allen was drafted in the fifth-round this year, it doesn’t mean he’s guaranteed a roster spot. The Utah product figures to get quite a bit of playing time on the outside late Friday night. Additionally, Allen, like so many other fringe roster players, will need to make a mark on special teams throughout the preseason. We are looking for upside out of Allen not only as a coverage man, but as a run defender as well.