The Pittsburgh Steelers will open their 2019 preseason Friday night at Heinz Field against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and while quite a few starters will sit the contest out due to either injuries or a coaching decision, there will still be plenty of younger players worth paying close attention to throughout the game. Below are 10 defensive players that Steelers fans will likely want to watch closely Friday night against the Buccaneers along with reasons why.
ILB Devin Bush – It would be foolish to not have the rookie inside linebacker on this list and just as foolish to not have him at the top it. Bush, the Steelers first-round draft pick this year out of Michigan, should play Friday night against the Buccaneers and might even start. How long Bush ultimately plays seems to be up in the air and he likely won’t play past the first half. Regardless, it will be good to see him in his first NFL action Friday night and hopefully he makes a few splash plays in his limited playing time.
OLB Olasunkanmi Adeniyi – Not only should the second-year Adeniyi get the start Friday night, he’ll likely play extensively and against left tackles that he should be able to get the best of several times. After a nice preseason showing as a rookie, Adeniyi should be able to deliver another this year. The Toledo product has done well so far during training camp and is on pace to push to be the backup to starter Bud Dupree come the start of the regular season. Adeniyi also needs to show some worth on special teams this year during the preseason and that’s something he failed to do as a rookie
S Kameron Kelly – The one game AAF star out of San Diego State has been talked about quite a bit ever since the start of the team’s OTA practices due to him getting some first team work on defense as a free safety in place of Sean Davis. With Davis also missing training camp practices with a finger injury, Kelly has continued to get a lot of first and second-team reps and as a result of that, he might just start Friday night against the Buccaneers. The Steelers don’t seemingly have great free safety depth on paper so Kelly certainly can secure a spot on this year’s 53-man roster with a strong defensive and special team play during the preseason.
S Marcus Allen – Relatively speaking, Allen, the team’s fifth-round draft pick last year out of Penn State, has had a very quiet training camp. The Steelers might only keep four total safeties this year on their 53-man roster and as of right now, Allen’s not guaranteed to be kept. He should get a lot of playing time Friday night as a strong safety and maybe even some work at the free safety spot. Additionally, I’m sure the Steelers will ask him to play a lot of special teams snap over the course of the next month. Allen should be able to play a lot faster than this same time last year so I a clean game against the Buccaneers should be expected.
DE Isaiah Buggs – Of the Steelers three sixth-round draft picks this year, all of which were defensive players, Buggs, who played his final two years of college football at Alabama, probably has the best shot at making the 53-man roster this year. So far, so good this summer with Buggs at Latrobe as he’s reportedly shown that he can rush the passer and defend the run well just as he did in college. Buggs should get a decent amount of playing time Friday night in both base and nickel personnel groupings. He doesn’t have the ideal physical measurements that you normally see with Steelers defensive ends, but he does use his quickness and hands well. I’m expecting a good night from him.
ILB Ulysees Gilbert III – This spot would have gone to outside linebacker Sutton Smith, another sixth-round selection this year, if I was sure he will play Friday night. However, with Sutton currently dealing with an unspecified injury, I am going to put the team’s other sixth-round pick this year, Gilbert, in his place. As training camp has progressed, Gilbert seems to be hitting a nice stride according to our very own Alex Kozora. A lot of his positive traits didn’t stick out to me in my selection of Akron game tape that I did after the draft, so I’ll be studying the young inside linebacker even closer throughout the preseason. Gilbert needs to shine extensively on special teams staring Friday night if he wants to have a shot at making this year’s 53-man roster. It certainly seems like Gilbert and Sutton might be two dogs batting for one bone these next four weeks and should the latter sit out Friday night, the former will have the opportunity to take the lead in the race.
OLB Tuzar Skipper – Like Adeniyi, Skipper is a Toledo product that went undrafted. Even so, the rookie outside linebacker appears to be having a nice first training camp to date. After Adeniyi exits the game Friday night, Skipper will likely enter the game and he might be asked to play every defensive snap from there on out in addition to some on special teams. Currently, Skipper doesn’t have a good shot at making this year’s 53-man roster. However, if the Steelers decide to keep an outside linebacker on their practice squad this year, Skipper has a good shot at people that player.
CB Cameron Sutton – Now in his third season, Sutton should be expected to contribute a little more on defense and special teams than he did in his first two seasons. He might even wind up being the team’s dimebacker this year in some personnel groupings. Will he play both outside and inside Friday night? I hope so because when he entered the league, he did so with the notion that he could potentially be very position flexible. Sutton might just be the smartest and most knowledgeable Steelers defensive player to see the field Friday night. He needs to make a play or two and show up on special teams if asked to play a lot in that phase.
CB Jermaine Ponder – The Steelers figure to be short quite a few cornerbacks Friday night as Joe Haden, Artie Burns, Brian Allen and Justin Layne were all dealing with injuries this past week. Obviously, we all hope that Layne, the team’s second of two third-round draft picks this year, can play Friday night. Right now, however, it’s not looking like he will so like Smith, the rookie outside linebacker, I left him off the list. Hopefully Ponder has been able to get himself up to speed with the Steelers defense quickly because he might need to play quite a bit Friday night in the second half. He’ll also likely be asked to play some on special teams. Despite being a late add this year, Ponder could potentially go on to make the practice squad this year with a strong preseason showing.
DT Daniel McCullers – Big Dan is back again and according to Kozora, he’s having a very nice training camp to date. McCullers will likely play early Friday night so it will be interesting to see if he can play as good under the lights as he’s practiced under the hot sun at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe.