Tonight marks the Pittsburgh Steelers’ final preseason game before they take the field again when the score actually matters. They have gone 3-0 so far in their first three exhibition games, but this one means far more for the players who are on the bottom of the roster, and there still remain a number of positions that are up for grabs.
The most significant headline for the contest was that Dwayne Haskins would start at quarterback, and that Mason Rudolph will not play at all. That seems to suggest that Rudolph will be the Steelers’ backup quarterback, unless Haskins has just such a stellar performance that he cannot be denied. It will be his first work with the ‘first’ unit, whatever that ends up looking like, this offseason.
Head coach Mike Tomlin also confirmed that running back Benny Snell would return after missing the past two preseason games, and suggested that he is going to get a lot of work. Does that imply that he has to justify his roster spot still?
This will be the final warmup for the offensive line. How many of the projected starters will be playing? I would imagine that Trai Turner, at least, will be held out. How much work will Zach Banner get? He made his preseason debut last week, but left the game (by design) before the other starters did.
I am most interested in the tackles, both Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor. I made this comparison in a comment recently, but Okorafor is beginning to look like a Max Starks type of starter as his peak, somebody who will allow his share of pressures in the passing game, but ones that the quarterback can work around without being hit or sacks often. Banner put some good reps on film in limited snaps, but we still know so relatively little about him.
The secondary situation is obviously very interesting, made all the more so with Antoine Brooks Jr. being out of the picture (at least for now). This is a big opportunity for James Pierre to lock down the starting nickel job, and maybe even prime himself for a full-time starting job down the line.
Then you have Tre Norwood debuting in the slot after being limited to free safety up to this point. The rookie seventh-round pick has been making strides throughout the offseason process, and I’ve had him down as a virtual lock for weeks now.
With the Steelers giving Carlos Davis a bunch of special teams snaps, are they priming themselves to carry seven defensive linemen? Henry Mondeaux was their special teamer last year, their justification for carrying seven. They may want an extra lineman to start the season with Stephon Tuitt not practicing.
Finally, there’s the special teams equation. Who will be the punter? Who will be the long snapper? Can Mathew Sexton earn a return role? Which linebackers will solidify roster spots through their special teams play tonight? My money continues to be on Jamir Jones.