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 offensive players that Steelers fans will likely want to watch closely Friday night against the Giants along with reasons why.
QB Joshua Dobbs – The Steelers will hold their top two quarterbacks out Friday night and that means Dobbs, the team’s fourth-round draft pick this year, will get the start. While he isn’t likely to be surrounded by many first-team players for long, Dobbs still should have enough competition weapons early in the game. We’re looking for his understanding of the offense, a solid demeanor, an ability to communicate and the protection of the football during his first NFL game.
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster – After quickly rebounding from an ankle injury that he suffered during the Steelers first-padded practice of training camp, Smith-Schuster, the team’s second-round draft pick this year, appears to be as advertised. The USC product should play quite a bit Friday night and it will be interesting to see how many spots he lines up at and how willing he is to do the dirty work such as run blocking.
WR Justin Hunter – Will Hunter even play Friday night after missing the last few training camp practices with an undisclosed injury? If he does, he certainly should be worth watching. Hunter has produced some big plays so far during training camp and especially inside the red zone and on deep throws. The former second-round draft pick of the Tennessee Titans could additionally help his cause if he can show he can play on special teams. Will Danny Smith even use him in that capacity should he ultimately suit up. We’ll be watching for it.
C B.J. Finney – With starting center Maurkice Pouncey likely to sit out Friday night, Finney should get plenty of much-needed work in his absence. He showed he could play guard last season and now needs to take a big step forward at center, the position he primarily played in college. We might see him play the entire first half.
RB Knile Davis – While fellow backup running back Fitzgerald Toussaint is likely to start Friday night, Davis, who was signed as an unrestricted free agent this past March, will still likely receive quite a bit of playing time. His last two years in the NFL haven’t been very productive so he needs to show well in every phase of his game starting against the Giants to prove he’s still a reliable backfield option. Yes, he’ll likely return kickoffs as well and thus needs to break one or two past the 40.
T Jerald Hawkins – Hawkins, the Steelers fourth-round draft pick in 2016, hasn’t played in a game since last year’s preseason opener due to a shoulder injury. While he did miss a few recent practices with an excused absence, one would think he’ll still play Friday night and potentially at both left and right tackle.
TE Xavier Grimble – After a very uneven 2016 season, Grimble needs to start showing more consistency and especially as a blocker. We know he can split the field and make combative catches, but he now needs to show he can do that on a weekly basis. Drops have been a problem for him as well.
T Brian Mihalik – We only got a tiny glimpse of the converted defensive lineman in last year’s preseason opener as he was befallen by a knee injury and quickly gone. While he’s not likely to make the final 53-man roster this year, Mihalik figures to be in play for a practice squad spot. Look for him to get a lot of right tackle work against the Giants.
RB Terrell Watson – The Azusa Pacific product appears to have a fan in Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who has given him the nickname of ‘Nightmare’ during training camp. While Watson is a huge longshot to make the final 53-man roster, his chances of ultimately making the practice squad are looking pretty good right now. We should see quite a bit of Watson in the Steelers backfield during the second half of the preseason opener in addition to him potentially getting quite a bit of burn on special teams.
G Ethan Cooper – Cooper, a high priority rookie undrafted free agent this year, is currently battling for a practice squad spot. The IUP product figures to get a lot of playing time at left and right guard Friday night and it will be interesting to see how he does out in space and as a pass protector. There hasn’t been much buzz about Cooper since training camp got underway so it’s time for him to create some with his stadium play.