Watching the Pittsburgh Steelers’ preseason opener live may have presented a different perception of first-year wide receiver Diontae Spencer’s offensive debut than a more sober, after-the-fact take might be, and for one reason in particular: total touches tend to mesh together. He had two good returns, one on a punt, and another on a kickoff. But as a wide receiver, on offense, he had only one positive play.
In fact, he may well have dropped the two of his four total targets that he failed to catch, though the first one is somewhat up for debate, as seen above. The preseason feed does not give a sufficient view to determine what exactly happened (e.g. if the defender actually broke up this pass), but in fairness to Spencer, it is clear that this was relatively well-defended. Still, it may have been a catchable pass, one he should have stepped into, and came at a critical situation on third and 12 from the Buccaneers’ 29-yard line.
His second target was indisputably a drop, and again came at a critical moment, third on third and 13. This time, It’s Devlin Hodges delivering the pass, and the ball goes in and out of his hands, clean in the center of his frame. This is the sort of play, which he has shown in training camp in addition to his 50-yard bombs, that will keep him from making the roster.
But if he can make some more returns such as these, then he can be in the conversation. While it’s important that he fielded the ball well—earlier in the game, he took a lick just as he was catching a punt when he should have signaled for a fair catch—this return was mostly about his 4.3 speed, and seeing the lane up the left sideline.
Later in the fourth quarter, he got a shot at a kick return, taking the ball out form three yards deep and returning it to the 32-yard line. While he had a bit of a lane, he did shake two tacklers en route to the traffic past the 20-yard line, and I like the urgency that he showed at the end of the run, plunging forward to maximize the return.
A short time later, he caught a short screen pass on which he picked up only two yards, but two plays later finally broke through with an offensive opportunity, Hodges finding him coming back over the middle of the field for a 15-yard gain.
One thing that we didn’t get a chance to see from Spencer in this game, which is an integral part of his repertoire, is a couple of deep shots. If he can secure a long reception or two on deep passes over the course of the next few games, he’ll put himself in much better position to stick already, albeit more likely on the practice squad than the 53-man roster at this point.