It’s been a long time coming, but later today the Pittsburgh Steelers will finally be playing a game that actually matters again, as they mark their preseason debut with a short trip to the west to visit the Cleveland Browns. Here are some things to watch out for as you tune in.
For starters, there are a couple of injury situations to be on the lookout for. The big one is Bud Dupree, who it seems may be something of a game-time decision as to whether or not he plays. On the back end, Mike Mitchell has been a full participant in practice leading up to the week after missing all of the preseason. How will he hold up?
Sticking with the defensive side of the ball, we will be getting our first look this afternoon at Joe Haden in a Steelers jersey, which will certainly be an unusual sight after seven years of looking at him wearing brown and orange.
In the slot, we could see a passing of the torch from William Gay to Mike Hilton. What will all of these changes, and time missed in practice, mean for the stability and function of the secondary? Will there be communication issues?
Oh, and then there is the return of Martavis Bryant on the offensive side of the ball, which I get the impression seems to be a pretty big deal for some people. He certainly appears to be in line to re-enter the starting lineup as though the past year never happened. He believes he’s knocked off the rust and is ready to go.
More changes from last year: a healthy number one tight end? Will Vance McDonald already be in that role? How much of a presence is he going to be in the passing game from the get-go? Last season, his average depth of target was nearly 10 yards.
Flipping back over to the other side of the ball, we get to the debut of T.J. Watt, and he gets to kick things off against Joe Thomas, a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame if there is one among offensive linemen today.
Some special teams notes. Who returns kickoffs? Will it be rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster? Will Eli Rogers handle punts? How will Kameron Canaday look snapping? Who will be the gunner opposite Darrius Heyward-Bey? Who will be the jammers?
Speaking of Rogers and Smith-Schuster, how will the slot snaps be divvied up? They were splitting the reps some during the preseason. Also, it’s something that they have talked about a very little bit, but will we actually see some proactive four-receiver usage?
And then there is the other side of the field. Watch for how the defense tries to get to rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, making his debut. Chances are they will try to generate as much pressure as possible. In the preseason, they blitzed a lot of cornerbacks, so that could play a notable role here. Hopefully Sammie Coates will not.