The Pittsburgh Steelers will play the Philadelphia Eagles on the road Thursday night and that contest will be the team’s second preseason game of 2021. While there will understandably be a lot of eyes on the Steelers 2021 draft picks and other rookies that will play Thursday night against the Eagles, I wanted to highlight 10 players in this post that I feel need to be watched closely who could play in this contest that did not play in the team’s preseason opener last week.
ILB Devin Bush – If Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was telling the truth this past week, Bush will be making his 2021 debut Thursday night against the Eagles. If it happens, it will be Bush’s first NFL game action since he tore his ACL in the first half of the team’s 2020 Week 6 game. The Steelers inside linebackers didn’t play overly great as a collective group last week in the Hall of Fame game and that includes Robert Spillane, who figures to be the starter alongside Bush to start the 2021 season. Bush might not play much Thursday night, but that said, it will be worth watching whatever snaps he does play against the Eagles if given the green light.
TE Pat Freiermuth – The Steelers used their second-round draft pick this year on Freiermuth. After missing the team’s preseason opener with an injury, Freiermuth, a Penn State product, should make his NFL debut Thursday night against the Eagles and he might even start if veteran tight end Eric Ebron is held out once again. Freiermuth will likely play a lot of snaps against the Eagles and his tape will be fun to look at after the fact.
T Chukwuma Okorafor – After sitting out the preseason opener last Thursday night, we should see Okorafor start at left tackle against the Eagles. Okorafor made the switch to left tackle from right tackle this offseason, played predominantly on the left side during his college career at Western Michigan. He considers the left side his more natural side. Okorafor could certainly use the work Thursday night, and it will be interesting to see if he winds playing at least three series.
T Zach Banner – Like Bush, Banner had most of his 2020 season wiped out by a knee injury that required surgery. With him picking up the face in training camp team drills this past week, our very own Alex Kozora likes the chances of Banner playing a few series Thursday night against the Eagles. It could go either way with Banner, but he did suffer his knee injury five weeks before Bush sustained his. The Steelers really need to get their first team offensive line some work together during the preseason, especially with four of the projected starters sitting out the Hall of Fame Game.
G Trai Turner – The Steelers signed the veteran Turner after mandatory minicamp ended and on the heels of them parting ways with longtime guard David DeCastro due to an ankle issue. While Turner is an experienced player and one that likely doesn’t need much preseason work, it would be great to see him hit the field for a few series Thursday night to play alongside rookie center Kendrick Green and perhaps even the aforementioned Banner as well.
G Kevin Dotson – Dotson, the Steelers’ fourth round draft pick in 2020, missed the preseason opener last Thursday with an ankle injury. He was back practicing this week and thus ultimately should play against the Eagles Thursday night. While Dotson might not play with the first-team Thursday night, whatever snaps he plays will be gone through with a fine-toothed comb. He is expected to be the Steelers Week 1 starting left guard and if that ankle of his is good to go, he might play a good number of snaps against the Eagles.
OLB Melvin Ingram – Much like with Turner, who is on this list, Ingram was signed right before training camp got underway. Ingram, also like Turner, is an experienced veteran player with multiple Pro Bowl selections under his belt. That said, Ingram is now on a new team and thus probably needs to some preseason snaps on defense soon after sitting out the Hall of Fame Game. Will he play any against the Eagles? It’s hard to say for sure but I’m hoping he does for at least two series.
RB Tony Brooks-James – Remember Brooks-James from the 2019 season? Well, he’s back again due to the team having two running backs ahead of him down with injuries. He was added right before the game last Thursday night and ultimately did not see any snaps. Brooks might see a few on Thursday night against the Eagles and if so, it might be his once chance to stake claim to being kept around on the practice squad.
WR Cody White – Wait, who? White, who has been slowed this summer by injury, spent most of the 2020 season on the Steelers practice squad. The fact that the Steelers have kept him around in training camp despite him being injured speaks volumes as to what they think about him. With White now practicing as of this week, he should be able to make his 2021 debut against the Eagles Thursday night and maybe even in the first half. A Michigan State product and 2020 undrafted free agent, White finished his college career with 143 receptions for 1,967 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. He compiled 2,115 all-purpose yards (1,967 receiving; 85 punt return; 63 rushing) at Michigan State and had five career 100-yard receiving outings.
RB Pete Guerriero – While there’s a good chance that he might not play at all Thursday night, I’m hoping the Steelers’ newest running back gets a chance to carry the football a few times in the fourth quarter against the Eagles. A Monmouth product, Pete Guerriero might not have ideal size, but he sure does have excellent speed. He broke off numerous huge runs in college and I think he deserves a chance to break one Thursday night against the Eagles. Guerriero might be gone a week from now so Thursday night might be his only chance to make an impression.