The first football game is in the books. The Pittsburgh Steelers emerged victorious in their preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But like any preseason game, the focus rests more on the players than the outcome. I’ll leave it to the Detroit Lions to tout the wins and losses.
So let’s talk about the best and worst from tonight.
Devin Bush – I think Ryan Shazier will be the man who inducts Devin Bush into the Hall of Fame. Ok, I know I’m getting way ahead of myself but what a debut for Bush. He made his first NFL tackle on his first play and showed well in all areas of the game. His run fits, ability to take on and control blocks, flow sideline-to-sideline while staying clean and finding the ball, his run/pass keys, and made plays in coverage. By the time his night was over, he was leading the team with ten tackles, seven of those solo. Really nice start for him.
James Washington – Granted, he made similar plays last year but a good beginning in Year Two for Washington, a man who is more critical to the success of this offense than anybody else. He high-pointed an underthrown ball from Josh Dobbs for a 43 yard play on the Steelers’ first drive, converted a 3rd and 21, and made a back shoulder snag for the team’s first touchdown.
Ola Adeniyi – Adeniyi did reportedly leave with an injury but when he was on the field, he looked good. Couldn’t convert one of his pressures into a sack but routinely won the edge with his hand use, leverage, and hip/ankle flexion. Run defense may have been a little more suspect, though he teamed with Bush for a 4th and 1 stop, but I liked his impact as a pass rusher and just as importantly, what he did on special teams. Routinely the first guy downfield on kick coverage.
Chris Boswell – It’s just preseason and Boz was fine last summer too but the dude was money tonight. Perfect on field goals and extra points, splitting the uprights each time. So far, so good. It still wouldn’t be a bad idea to sacrifice that goat, though, just to be safe.
Mason Rudolph – All the quarterbacks had their moments tonight but I thought Rudolph had the best performance. His consistency, especially with ball placement, and going through his reads while showing a bit more mobility than last year. Still an open battle for the backup QB spot but Rudolph picked up his play from a rougher last few practices.
Johnny Holton – Holton’s healthy. And in the nick of time. A left hamstring pull hindered his start to camp. But he caught 47 and 65 yard passes in Wednesday’s practice and flashed that big-play ability Friday night with an impressive 69 yard run-after-catch that set up a Zach Gentry touchdown. He also saw work as a gunner and kick return. As we said when the team signed him after rookie minicamp, he has a Darrius Heyward-Bey feel and is arguably the better receiver.
Zach Banner – Kudos to Big Banner. Played nearly the entire game, only sitting out in the game’s final five minutes. Showed a high level of conditoning and, on first glance at least, impressive play. He provided a key down block on Jaylen Samuels’ 22 yard run in the first half. Excited to go through his tape again but really liking his odds of making the 53.
Stunt pickup – New offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett carrying Mike Munchak’s torch. They rep stunt pickup every single day and today showed why. Rudolph’s touchdown to Gentry and Devlin Hodges’ toss to Tevin Jones were extended plays were aided by good stunt pickup up front. Props to the o-line across the board in that regard.
Ulysees Gilbert III – A late add to this list. Gilbert flashed the way he’s looking since the first few days of training camp. Athletic with great closing speed and able to make plays in coverage. Interception on the Bucs’ attempted two-point conversion and then followed that up with a strip/sack at the end of the game. Clear leg up on Sutton Smith, who missed tonight with an injury.
Chukwuma Okorafor – Not the prettiest way to begin Year Two. Not all of the pressures he allowed were his fault but he was called for holding at least once and had trouble securing the edge. In a vacuum, Banner definitely outplayed him tonight. He’ still young and raw and has played more right tackle than left in camp, he was on the blindside tonight, but was hoping for better.
Justin Layne – Probably the name you’re going to hear the most in the “negative” column throughout the week. Layne looked every bit as raw as billed coming out of Michigan State and you saw some of the issues I was concerned with when the team drafted him. Some stiffness, average speed, and though he has a “want to” in the run game, much like Artie Burns, his technique (coming to balance too early, dropping his eyes, going too low) and run fits were poor. It’s clear why the Steelers basically admitted they didn’t intend on playing him this year.
Marcus Allen – Allen’s performance didn’t seem terrible but he looks behind in the pecking order, not seeing the field until later in the third quarter. His roster spot seems very much up in the air right now. He’ll battle Kameron Kelly, Jordan Dangerfield, and any potential outside trade candidate. And right now,he might be behind those names.
JC Hassenauer – His evaluation should come with the caveat that he probably isn’t fully healthy and in practice, and I assume for tonight, is wearing a brace on his injured right knee. It’s hurt his already limited mobility. But he struggled to pull, called for holding (he looked grabby in camp) and didn’t seem to separate himself for a practice squad IOL spot.
Malik Williams – Can’t play all the running backs and hopefully he gets a chance next week but he was the only back not to see the field. Travon McMillian playing ahead of him isn’t a good sign.