I think the Pittsburgh Steelers made it pretty apparent at the outset of last night’s preseason finale that they viewed veteran wide receiver Justin Hunter as a player who was currently sitting outside the bubble, and that they wanted to give him the opportunity to move into the side of the bubble that includes a job.
That is likely the primary reason that he was a starter for tonight’s game after seeing just two snaps a week ago. They wanted him to get the best looks possible in this late game in order to showcase his abilities, to either convince them that he should be on the roster or to potentially even make himself valuable in a trade.
Did he do enough? It wouldn’t shock me, but if I were the one who was making the decisions, he would not be getting a roster spot—at least not one over Sammie Coates, who was used as a starting gunner last week, though they did not take that same approach with himself and Darrius Heyward-Bey for this game.
Hunter saw action on the first play of the game, targeted by Landry Jones off the right sideline on a short throw that allowed him to turn and lower his shoulder for a first down. Two plays later, on second and three, Jones looked for him again on an inside slant, but it looked as though the cornerback got a piece of it. The ball still ricocheted off of the receivers’ hands, bouncing in the air, incomplete.
It is worth noting that by the third drive, with Joshua Dobbs checked in at wide receiver, Coates was already being used as the primary wide receiver. On that first series in, there were several plays in which there were three tight ends on the field, for example, and he was the only wide receiver.
Still, Hunter continued to play, and after that three-tight end sequence, he returned and made a four-yard reception on third and four, camping at the first-down marker and giving Dobbs and easy outlet and target to throw to.
It is also fair to point out that the veteran wide receiver did at least seem to attempt marginal effort when it comes to run blocking, which is about the bare minimum that you could ask for from a wide receiver with his size.
Of course, the big man capped off his night by all displaying his wheels as he was able to get behind the secondary for a 58-yard strike and a score. Granted, it may be true that the cornerback he beat was an undrafted rookie who has only an outside shot of making the Panthers’ roster, but he still made the play.
That was his second touchdown of the preseason, and it is also fair to point out that he is the only player during the preseason with more than one—although Xavier Grimble would have had two had one not been taken away due to a penalty. But did he do enough to earn a roster spot? We will know in the next two days.