The Pittsburgh Steelers wrap up their preseason tonight against the Carolina Panthers, as they have for many years, a relationship that appears to be at no risk of ending any time soon with former Steelers minority owner David Tepper now in charge of the Panthers franchise.
Playing the same team in the same week of the preseason every year provides a certain level of comfort in knowing that you have a barometer from which to compare across seasons. Though the roster changes every year, of course, there is some continuity inherent in a franchise year-to-year, so being able to end the preseason against Carolina every year is actually a bit of a perk in the evaluation process.
Which is of course what tonight’s game is going to be about. Trying to figure out which of the fringe players are going to make the initial 53-man roster, and sorting out how many players at each position will be carried. That, and determining if upgrades are needed from outside of the 90-man roster.
So let’s talk about some of these players, shall we? Might as well start at the top, at the quarterback position. There are indications that the Steelers intend to allow Devlin Hodges to play extensively, perhaps all of the second half. The question is, does he have a serious chance to make the team, or is he being showcased, either with a trade in mind or simply to give him a good chance of being signed by another team?
We know the four positions at wide receiver are secure. The final two roster spots figure to be occupied by any two of Eli Rogers, Ryan Switzer, Diontae Spencer, and Johnny Holton. At least one of the former two most likely will make the roster, and both of them making it is still the most likely possibility, but one of the latter two can crack the team through special teams play.
The offensive line has generally settled in, but I’m starting to wonder if they will consider carrying eight. Fred Johnson can help make that decision. I’m also starting to think the swing tackle job is up for grabs between Chukwuma Okorafor and Zach Banner.
Of course, there’s linebacker. Ulysees Gilbert III can put the final touches on a roster spot that seems largely secure. Tuzar Skipper absolutely needs to get on special teams. He has a chance if he does. If he doesn’t, then…
The cornerback position seems set in, but we’re still going back and forth between Marcus Allen and Jordan Dangerfield. I think Allen can win the job with a good day on special teams as a player with more upside. He had two tackles on special teams in the second preseason game.
And of course there’s tight end. The likely names are known, but it’s time to determine if there’s enough meat on the bone to go into the season with or if there is a need for additional personnel from the outside. I’ve seen Zach Gentry do some solid stuff in the run-blocking department, so for what it’s worth, I’m not expecting a tight end to be added at this point.