It’s literally just a matter of hours now before Pittsburgh Steelers football returns. They will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their first of four preseason games later tonight, where we will get our first glimpse at a number of players who could potentially play key roles this season.
At this stage of the game, that is—aside from health—probably the thing that we are looking at most, so we should start there, and we might as well start right at the top, with first-round, 10th-overall pick Devin Bush, the inside linebacker out of Michigan.
With Vince Williams nursing an injury, he may not play, which means there’s a good chance we are going to see Bush not just early but also often, rather than in a rotation, and he will probably play a lot, deep into the game.
Bush has had a steadily climbing trajectory during training camp so far. He had some plays made on him early on, but has begun to return the favor over the course of the past week. Can he show the sort of immediate impact the Steelers were expecting to see when they drafted him?
We might not get a chance to see Diontae Johnson tonight as he works back from a groin injury. Donte Moncrief is also working back from a finger injury. That potentially means tons upon tons of reps for guys, most crucially, like James Washington. He made some big plays in the preseason a year ago, but consistency is what we are looking for now.
Expect Jaylen Samuels and perhaps especially Benny Snell, Jr. to get the lion’s share of the work out of the backfield tonight. Snell has had an extremely encouraging camp, but will that translate against a live opponent that he hasn’t seen before? How will his hands show up? Will he pass protect as well as advertised?
Questions abound at the tight end position. Vance McDonald is a known commodity, outside of his health. Can Xavier Grimble find another gear as he emerges as the number two? What can rookie Zach Gentry and first-year Christian Scotland-Williamson do? Can Gentry make enough plays as a receiving weapon to let his need for improvement in the blocking department slide?
The young pass rushers. Who makes the biggest impact between second-year Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, Sutton Smith, Tuzar Skipper, and J.T. Jones? Adeniyi already had a strong preseason a year ago. Continuing on with the pass-rush theme, rookie defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs recently started getting some nickel reps with the first team, and has generated some pressure. Can he state his case for a helmet? Can he put the competition for the sixth defensive line spot out of reach?
There are so many other things to look for. How early will Ulysees Gilbert III get into the game? His sideline-to-sideline ability in training camp has been noted. Can Chris Boswell keep up his current ‘hot streak’ in Latrobe? Will Artie Burns grab the reins with Joe Haden injured? Will he even play after suffering a groin injury? Oh, and there are some quarterbacks that we’re probably going to want to get a good look at as well. What else are you going to be watching for tonight, other than who shows up on special teams?