The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their fourth and final preseason game of 2019 Thursday night on the road against the Carolina Panthers and this contest should give us a chance to see quite a few backup roster hopeful players playing quite a few snaps in the contest. All the Steelers defensive draft picks might play Thursday night and that’s certainly worth looking forward to. Below are seven defensive players that Steelers fans will likely want to watch closely Thursday night against the Panthers along with reasons why.
ILB Devin Bush – After playing just 19 snaps in the team’s third preseason game this past Sunday night, Bush is expected to start again Thursday night against the Panthers. While the team’s first-round draft pick this year isn’t likely to play the entire first half Thursday night, he might stay in for the first three defensive series. Bush only registered one assisted tackle Sunday night and it’s a good bet he’ll have a few more than that on the defensive stat sheet Thursday night. As things stand right now, Bush will be one of the Steelers starters at inside linebacker in Week 1 and likely be the play caller to boot.
ILB Ulysees Gilbert III – After Bush exits Thursday night, we might see Gilbert on the field for nearly all the remainder of the game. The Akron product has played well in the Steelers first three preseason games on his way to registering 11 total tacklers, a forced fumble and one special teams tackle. Gilbert has logged 110 total defensive snaps and 35 special teams snaps. He’s looking like he’s headed for a spot on the 53-man roster entering the final week of the preseason so look for him to get a lot more burn Thursday night.
OLB Tuzar Skipper – The Steelers rookie undrafted free agent outside linebacker out of Toledo has been pleasant surprise to date as not only has he registered three sacks, three quarterback hits and three hurries in the team’s first three preseason games, he also has seven total run tackles. The only area that Skipper hasn’t shined in is on special teams and that’s not his fault as he’s only logged three snaps on the punt return team heading into Thursday night. Skipper says he doesn’t know why he hasn’t been asked to play more on special teams and that he hopes he gets an opportunity to work in that phase Thursday night. One more solid defensive showing as a pass rusher Thursday night combined with a few special teams tackles will make him even harder to cut than he already is. Here’s to him getting his wish Thursday night as he deserves it.
S Marcus Allen – Is Allen inside or outside the roster bubble entering the final preseason game? It’s hard to say for sure but it certainly appears as though he’s pushing fellow Steelers safety Jordan Dangerfield hard for potentially one roster spot. Allen has played 86 defensive snaps so far this preseason and 28 special teams snaps. The former fifth-round draft pick out of Penn State figures to get one last long look Thursday night against the Panthers and he needs to make a few big plays if he hopes to stick in Pittsburgh past Saturday night.
OLB Sutton Smith – Smith finally made his preseason debut Sunday night and while he ultimately played 55 defensive snaps and 15 special teams snaps, he only managed to register one tackle during the contest, and it was on a run that gained 10 yards. Smith’s a long-shot to make the Steelers 53-man roster entering the team’s preseason finale and not even a lock to make the practice squad, either. The Northern Illinois product and sixth-round draft pick figures to get another large amount of playing time Thursday night and it’s important that he sticks out on tape in the process.
CB Justin Layne – Layne’s preseason has gone pretty much as expected as it has been filled with ups and downs. The Michigan State product seems to be getting a little more comfortable on defense and while he’s obviously a lock to make this year’s 53-man roster as a backup cornerback, it would be nice to see him close out the preseason on a high note that includes him registering a turnover or big pass breakup. Layne has also played quite a bit on special teams and especially as a gunner on the punt team so look for him and Artie Burns to both resume those roles Thursday night.
CB Trevon Mathis – We haven’t talked about Mathis very much at all since he was signed after the start of training camp. However, he has managed to log 80 defensive snaps so far during the preseason and with fellow cornerback Brian Allen now on Reserve/Injured with an ankle injury, Mathis might have a shot at being the lone cornerback signed to the Steelers practice squad if one is needed. If Mathis can make a play or two Thursday night against the Panthers, it would go a long way in helping his cause. He’s bound to get a lot of playing time Thursday night.