The Pittsburgh Steelers will close out their 2017 preseason schedule Thursday night on the road against the Carolina Panthers and while several of the team’s more established players are certainly unlikely to see much, if any, action in this contest, there will still be several other younger players worth keeping a close eye on just the same.
Below are 10 offensive players that Steelers fans will likely want to watch closely Thursday night against the Panthers along with reasons why.
WR Demarcus Ayers – After missing most of training camp and the first three preseason games with an injury, all signs point toward Ayers making his 2017 debut Thursday night against the Panthers. If the Steelers 2016 seventh-round draft has any shot still at making the final 53-man roster this year, he’ll need to have a very solid game in Charlotte, NC and potentially in bad weather as well. Ayers should not only see playing time at wide receiver, but as a punt returner as well. A few long returns certainly would help his roster cause.
RB Terrell Watson – Watson has had two strong showings as a running back so far during the preseason and being as the Steelers should already have a good idea about who exactly Knile Davis and Fitzgerald Toussaint both are by now, it would make sense to give Watson some extended action Thursday night against the Panthers and potentially even earlier in the game. I’d also like to see the Azusa Pacific product get some serious special teams time during the preseason finale.
QB Landry Jones – Outside of his late interception in his 2017 preseason debut last Saturday, Jones played well against the Indianapolis Colts. There’s a good chance he plays the entire first half against the Panthers Thursday night and while he certainly won’t be surrounded by a lot of regular offensive starters in this contest, he should have enough talent to work with just the same.
QB Joshua Dobbs – Dobbs preseason play has been pretty much uneventful so far and Thursday night might very well be the last time we see him play in a stadium until next year. If things go like I think they will, Dobbs will play the entire second half against the Panthers and hopefully we see more positives than negatives out of him.
G Matt Feiler – So far through the Steelers first three preseason games, Feiler has made a strong case for himself to be a ninth offensive lineman kept on the final 53-man roster. He doesn’t have any practice squad eligibility remaining so the preseason finale means quite a bit to him when it comes to his NFL future. Even if not ultimately retained by the Steelers, Feiler could find himself on another team’s 53-man roster next week with another solid preseason showing Thursday night.
TE Jesse James – The Steelers traded for tight end Vance McDonald on Tuesday and while James’ spot on the 53-man roster doesn’t appear to be in jeopardy as a result of that deal, it goes without saying that he and the other tight ends on the roster have been put on notice. James has had a very uneventful and inconsistent preseason thus far and while he might not play very long Thursday night, it would be nice to see him register a nice showing ahead of the regular season getting underway.
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster – The Steelers second-round draft pick this year out of USC has had a rough preseason and it’s included him suffering some sort of injury during the two games that he’s dressed for. Thursday night, Smith-Schuster figures to get quite a bit of playing time against the Panthers and he certainly needs it. Here’s to hoping that the injury bug is done with him once and for all.
RB James Conner – Conner has made a strong case during the preseason that he deserves to enter the regular season as the primary backup to starting running back Le’Veon Bell. Look for him to get more carries Thursday night in addition to even more burn on special teams.
RB Trey Williams – The Steelers undersized running back figures to get a few more carries Thursday night in the team’s preseason finale and it would be nice to see him get the opportunity to return a few kickoffs and punts as well. At worst, Williams still figures to have a shot at making the Steelers 10-man practice squad this year depending on what ultimately happens with the aforementioned Watson.
WR Justin Hunter – Hunter’s limited playing time in the teams third preseason game is very concerning when it comes to his chances of making the 53-man roster this year. Is he injured? If he wants to extend his NFL career, the former second-round draft pick of the Tennessee Titans really needs to have a strong showing Thursday night against the Panthers.