After sitting out the team’s third preseason game this past Sunday night with a speculated groin injury, Pittsburgh Steelers rookie running back Benny Snell Jr. is slated to play in the Thursday night preseason finale against the Carolina Panthers. While Snell should ultimately play some on offense Thursday night, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin indicated after the team’s Tuesday practice the things he’s looking for in that contest out of this year’s fourth-round draft pick.
“You know, he’s got to continue the upward trajectory of what he’s shown us to this point,” Tomlin said of Snell. “And I’ll be really specific there. You know, he made a punt team tackle in the first preseason game, or a kickoff tackle in the first preseason game. He made a significant punt tackle in the second preseason game.
“Notice I’m talking about things other than the things that you naturally measure Benny Snell in regards to, because he’s trying to get on the football team and carve out a role for himself. He’ll probably cover a punt or cover a kick for us before he carries the football.”
Tomlin pointing out the importance of Snell’s special teams play Thursday night is not surprising. While the Kentucky product didn’t seem to play much, if any, on special teams during his college career, he’s seemed to take to being a core member of the units so far in the Steelers first two preseason games.
If he’s able to stay healthy Thursday night and make a few more special teams plays against the Panthers, it should secure his spot on the 53-man roster as the team’s third running back. Him securing that spot would also likely lead to backup running back Trey Edmunds being waived during the final cuts. Edmunds then might land back on the Steelers practice squad.
For whatever it’s worth, Snell appears ready to show Tomlin Thursday night that he can continue to produce on special teams in addition to contributing some on offense.
“I take a lot of pride in that. That’s my chance to show I’m a football player,” Snell said of his expected special teams responsibilities, according to Brian Batko of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Any chance I get, I want to make the most of it. Special teams are huge.”
Snell has rushed for 42 yards on 20 total carries in two preseason games and has also caught four passes for another 30 yards. He’s been credited with one assisted tackle and one primary tackle on special teams. Snell has played 53 offensive snaps and 25 special teams snaps so far this preseason.
Tomlin also indicated Tuesday that special teams play Thursday night against the Panthers will matter to other younger players on the roster besides Snell.
“You can take that point and relay it to all the young guys,” Tomlin said. “You can ask me individually, but I’m gonna say similar things, because it is a similar opportunity for all of those guys.”
Will rookie outside linebacker Tuzar Skipper get a shot at playing more on special teams Thursday night? We’ll have to wait and see. To date the undrafted free agent out of Toledo has played just three special teams snaps and all came as a member of the punt return team in the second preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs.