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 of the Steelers offensive draft picks are expected to play Thursday night and if it that happens it will mark the first time this year that’s happened. Below are seven offensive players that Steelers fans will likely want to watch closely Thursday night against the Panthers along with reasons why.
RB Benny Snell Jr. – After missing the Steelers third preseason game with an injury, Snell is expected to play Thursday night in the finale against the Panthers. The Steelers fourth-round draft pick out of Kentucky figures to get some early work against the Panthers on special teams and it’s important that he impresses in those opportunities. At some point in the Thursday night game we should see Snell play some running back. While he’s done well in short-yardage opportunities in the two preseason games he’s played in, he’s yet to break off a run longer than 7 yards in his 20 total carries. Can he get at least 10 more carries Thursday night? I’d certainly like to see that happen and would like to see him break one or two of them as well.
WR Diontae Johnson – Like Snell, Johnson missed the team’s third preseason game last Sunday night due to him not being completely healthy. The team’s first of two third-round draft picks this year is currently expected to play Thursday night against the Panthers and hopefully pick up where he left off at in the team’s second preseason game. In that previous preseason showing, Johnson caught three passes for 46 yards and a touchdown. The Toledo product figures to get some early playing time Thursday night and might even be allowed to return some kicks and punts.
TE Zach Gentry – Gentry is still poised to be the Steelers No. 3 tight end in 2019 but that’s only be default. Regardless of how Gentry plays Thursday night, the Steelers still might decide to waive him in lieu of adding another tight end from the outside. Gentry would then likely be a prime candidate to land of the practice squad. It’s important for Gentry to have his best preseason game to date Thursday night and especially as a run blocker and special teams player. The Steelers spent a fifth-round draft pick on Gentry this year and obviously they hope he sticks.
G Derwin Gray – Yet another Steelers draft pick on this list and this time one that’s almost guaranteed to not make the 53-man roster. Gray, however, seems to be ticketed for the practice squad entering the team’s preseason finale and so far, the Maryland product has split time at both guard spots. While Gray has seemingly performed well as a pass protector in the team’s first three preseason games, his run blocking needs quite a bit of work. Gray figures to see extensive playing time Thursday night and should be watched closely whenever he’s on the field.
G Fred Johnson – The Steelers undrafted offensive lineman out of Florida has played well in the team’s first three preseason games and not only has he manned both guard spots, he’s only allowed two total pressures by my count. While Johnson has represented himself well in the Steelers first two preseason games, he’s still not a lock to make the 53-man roster should the team decide they only want to keep eight offensive linemen in total. Johnson figures to get a decent amount of playing time Thursday night against the Panthers and could use one more nice outing. This might be the final time we see Johnson play in 2019 as well. Is he the next Ramon Foster?
QB Devlin Hodges – After being held out of the Steelers third preseason game, Hodges figures to close out the team’s final exhibition contest at quarterback. Hodges will likely play most of the second half Thursday night. In his first two preseason appearances we saw Hodges display very good accuracy on his 18 total passes. However, most of his passes past five yards were thrown outside the numbers. Assuming Hodges does get to play again Thursday night, it will be interesting to see if he gets the opportunity to push the ball; down the field more with more attempts happening between the numbers. A solid showing Thursday night by Hodges combined with a not so good outing by fellow quarterback Joshua Dobbs could result in a very interesting weekend. Will we even be writing or talking about Hodges come Monday?
WR Johnny Holton – It certainly doesn’t seem like Holton has any sort of chance at making the Steelers 53-man roster at this point. That said, Holton does probably have a decent shot at making the Steelers practice squad this year if he doesn’t stick on the 53 as not only can he play both the Z and X receiver spots, he’s a damn good coverage unit player on special teams. Holton enters the preseason finale with four catches for 81 yards with 59 of those coming after one of his short grabs. If he should get another chance or two on kickoff returns, Holton can help his cause by breaking off a long one. It would also be nice to see him close out the preseason with a catch way down the field.