There were many things that were missed a year ago thanks to the pandemic. Perhaps some didn’t miss it, but the absence of a preseason for the NFL last year was certainly notable to some like myself, who value the role that it serves within the calendar. While the league has been trying to trim the preseason for years, Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II remains its defender and welcomes its return.
“Well, it’s nice to have a preseason, let’s put it that way,” he told Missi Matthews yesterday as part of their coverage of the schedule release. While the preseason was reduced from four games to three, they will still play four this year due to their participation in the Hall of Fame game against the Dallas Cowboys.
“I think it’s an important part of our schedule and an important part of player development,” he added. “Having the first game of the year playing the Cowboys, anytime the Steelers and the Cowboys get together, it’s always an attention-grabber. I think it’ll be a good way to get the season started, and we’ll be the first ones out of the box this year, which is always interesting.”
Functionally speaking, perhaps the most important aspects of the preseason are getting some experience for younger players before they have to step into games, and deciding tiebreakers for the last several roster spots.
It’s generally seen as to the advantage of fringe players to have the preseason, though even last year, we saw the Steelers carry undrafted free agent cornerback James Pierre. He was an instant contributor on special teams, even though that is a very hard thing to evaluate without a live setting.
And they also fared well with regards to getting early contributions from rookies, particularly wide receiver Chase Claypool and guard Kevin Dotson, who had to make a couple of starts early in the season, including Week 2. Edge Alex Highsmith also made an impact during his rookie year. All three will be in the starting lineup in 2021.
The Steelers have more new faces and moving parts this year than normal, however, as well as some significant changes on their coaching staff. It’s surely to their advantage to have the preseason to evaluate what they have.
There’s also the matter of Dwayne Haskins, the first-round quarterback they’ve kicked the tires on. Getting a chance to get him into a game situation will be critical in their evaluation process with respect to how they view his potential with the franchise moving forward.