The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their second preseason game of 2019 Saturday night at Heinz Field against the Kansas City Chiefs and while a few starters will once again sit that contest out due to either injuries or a coaching decision, there will still be plenty of other younger players worth paying close attention to throughout the game. Below are 7 offensive players that Steelers fans will likely want to watch closely Saturday night against the Chiefs along with reasons why.
QB Mason Rudolph – Last week I listed all three Steelers quarterbacks on my list of 10 players to watch in the team’s preseason opener and I’m glad I did. This week, however, I’m only listing Rudolph as he’ll start the games Saturday night against the Chiefs. Rudolph, who looked good last week in relief of Joshua Dobbs, probably has the most to gain or lose this week. A great showing could solidly him being the team’s backup to Ben Roethlisbeger while an awful showing combined with a nice showing by Dobbs might have adverse effects. Will Rudolph being able to push the ball down the field with success more this week? He figures to get plenty of playing time with wide receiver James Washington again this week so look for those two players to hook up quite a few times Saturday night.
WR Diontae Johnson – After sitting out the preseason opener due to a groin injury, it appears as though Johnson, the team’s first of two third-round draft picks this year, will make his NFL debut Saturday night against the Chiefs. Johnson seemingly had a nice few days of practice this past week and now it’s time for the Toledo product to show what he can do against a different team under the stadium lights. Johnson might start Saturday night if fellow wide receiver Donte Moncrief is rested once again. Regardless, Johnson should get plenty of work as the Steelers X receiver spot Saturday night. Will the Steelers also let him return a kickoff or two Saturday night? We’ll have to wait and see.
T Chukwuma Okorafor – Okorafor, one of the Steelers two third-round draft picks last year, did not have a great showing last week in the team’s preseason opener. Not only was he penalized twice for holding last Friday night, Okorafor also allowed two quarterback hurries during in his 19 total pass plays that he played in. Okorafor played only at left tackle last weekend so it will be interesting to see if he gets some work at right tackle Saturday night in addition to even more work on the opposite side. Okorafor is expected to be the Steelers swing tackle this season, so he needs better preseason showings moving forward.
WR Johnny Holton – Holton was on my list of 10 players to watch last week and he’s back again this week on the list of seven. Last Friday night Holton had a nice preseason debut as not only did he register the game’s longest play from scrimmage, a 59-yard gain of which nearly came after the catch, he also drew a 27-yard pass interference penalty and caught another pass later in the game for 10 yards. Holton also returned two kickoffs Saturday night for a 22.5-yard average and was credited with an assisted special teams tackle. Against the Chiefs Saturday night, Holton should get about the same amount of offensive and special teams playing time that he received in the opener. An even better showing in both those phases of the game could result in him making the 53-man roster over either fellow wide receivers Eli Rogers or Ryan Switzer. I predict a double-explosive reception from Holton via the arm of Rudolph.
RB Benny Snell Jr. – In his debut last Friday night, Snell, the team’s fourth round draft this year out of Kentucky, didn’t have a great showing on the ground as he rushed 13 times for 26 yards with a long run of 5 yards. Only four of his rushing attempts were successful ones and he should have gotten more yardage on one attempted to the left side, but he failed to break a one-on-one tackle. While Snell looked fine in the passing game in the preseason opener as both a pass catcher and pass protector, it would be nice to see a little more of the same Saturday night along with a much higher percentage of successful rushing attempts. Snell will also get more special teams work Saturday night and possible even as a core member.
TE Xavier Grimble – The Steelers are hurting at the tight end position entering this weekend as rookie draft Zach Gentry and Christian Scotland-Williamson are both dealing with injuries that are expected to keep them sidelined Saturday night. Assuming starter Vance McDonald remains rested again this week, Grimble might wind up needing to play around 20 or more snaps before letting backups Kevin Rader, Trevor Wood and Mickey Crum, who was just signed on Thursday, close the game out. Grimble is a virtual lock to make the 53-man roster this year as a No. 2 tight end. While he did play 21 total offensive snaps in the preseason opener, he was pretty much invisible when on the field. He wasn’t targeted last week in the passing game so look for that to change Saturday night. It would be nice to see Grimble give us something to positive to talk about Sunday morning about his Saturday night play.
G Derwin Gray – Last Friday night, Gray, the Steelers seventh-round draft pick this year out of Maryland, only played 6 offensive snaps with all of them coming at right guard. Saturday night, Gray figures to get even more playing time and that means he might relive expected starter Fred Johnson, who is also a rookie, quite a bit earlier than he did last Friday night. Gray is still very much a long shot to make the 53-man roster and that’s not overly surprising. That said, he could potentially still wind up on the Steelers practice squad this year and especially if he has great showings at guard in the remaining preseason games. Will the Steelers also let him play some tackle Friday night? He played a lot of left tackle at Maryland so we might just see him get a few late snaps in at that spot against the Chiefs.