Throughout the Pittsburgh Steelers season I will be doing a weekly piece on an intriguing matchup to watch for each game. The focus will be on choosing important battle for the upcoming game and give you some background information that could be something keep an eye on come game time. For example, it could focus on key players on each team that will be going head to head or how a defense will try to stop a specific player.
NFL jobs are on the line and game four of the preseason is the last chance for many back up and reserve players to make the team. Fifty-three man rosters and 10 man practices squads mean that 27 players per team will be cut this week.
There are plenty of position battles that will be decided so let’s talk about one of the Steelers areas for depth.
Steelers Offensive Line vs Panthers front 7
The Steelers starters look to be set but there are some good players on the offensive line that will need to be at their best in this last game to put a stamp on their resume.
So far in this preseason, the Steelers back up running backs have not had a ton of success. Part of that can be attributed to them but it was evident the reserve lineman struggled to open up holes for the running game. In three games, the combination of Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell, Trey Edmunds, Malik Williams and Travon McMillan have combined for just 169 yards on 59 carries. That translates to 2.86 yards per carry. You’d like your offensive line to be able to sustain the running game especially with a lead late in the game so you can run the 4 minute offense to run out the clock.
The most success they’ve seem to have is in a counter runs where the guard and another lead blocker, either full back or tight end, leads through the hole.
Carolina this preseason has allowed 270 yards on 73 carries overall which is 3.69 yards per carry to the Chicago Bears, Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots.
In the Passing game they’ve had more success giving the quarterback time to throw. As a unit the offensive line has allowed only 3 sacks in the preseason. The trio of Joshua Dobbs, Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges has gone 46 or 78 for 619 yards with 5 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.
They should be tested in this last game. By my count the Panthers reserve defenders have a total of 10 sacks in the preseason led by OLB’s Brian Burns (#53) with 4 and Marquis Haynes (98) with 2.
Who to watch
Depending on how many linemen the Steelers keep there won’t be enough chairs when the music stops playing for all of the following players. Six OL spots are secure so there is room for 2 or 3 linemen out of this group on the 53 and 2-3 on the practice squad.
B.J. Finney will serve as the number 2 center and can back up the guard positions so his spot is secure. But will they stash someone on the practice squad. Patrick Morris would be the likely candidate if they do.
Fred Johnson has turned into a pleasant undrafted free agent find. He’s better pass blocker than run blocker at this point. He is on the bubble with a chance to make the 53. If not its likely he’d be put on the practice squad.
J.C. Hassenauer was one of the Steelers signings from the AAF and is listed as the second team LG on the depth chart. He also can play center as well so that give him some versatility.
Derwin Gray – The seventh round pick and played RG opposite of Johnson in the last game. He doesn’t quite look ready for the roster yet but could use some development on the practice roster.
Chukwuma Okorafor came into came looking like he might contend for the starting right tackle job. Unfortunately had has progressed as quickly as the team had hoped. He should be on the 53 with the swing tackle job by he hasn’t solidified it yet.
Zach Banner has had a nice camp. He came in trimmed down and has been playing a lot at the RT position and doing well. He seems to be coming into his own in his third season and looks to be on the 53 bubble.
Jerald Hawkins has been hit with the injury bug in previous year and his development has fallen behind. He’s looking up at the other two tackles with a lot of work to do. His best option would be to make the practice roster.
This is the last question of the interview to determine who will be part of the 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers and who will be looking for employment elsewhere.