The Pittsburgh Steelers will play the Carolina Panthers on the road Friday night and that contest will be the team’s fourth and final preseason game of 2021. The Steelers had their tune-up game last week so their Friday night contest against the Panthers will be an opportunity for a lot of the younger and inexperienced players to make one final charge at a 53-man or practice squad spot. In this post, I wanted to highlight eight players that I feel need to be watched closely Friday night. Most of these eight players are seemingly not guaranteed spots on the 53-man roster entering Friday night.
QB Dwayne Haskins – After being the third quarterback in the Steelers first two preseason games, Haskins will finally get a chance to start Friday night against the Panthers. The former first round draft pick out of Ohio State should get a chance to play with a good portion of the first team offensive line on Friday night and possibly even all of it. Haskins could quite possibly wind up facing a lot of the Panthers defensive starters on Friday night as well as that’s the current expectations. In short, the Steelers should be able to get a long look at Haskins Friday night and it might be their last look at him in a game until the 2022 preseason. Does Haskins really have a legitimate shot at winning the backup quarterback job Friday night? Personally, I will be surprised if that’s the case, but stranger things have happened. A solid showing Friday night by Haskins would certainly increase the talk that not only should he be the team’s 2021 backup to starter Ben Roethlisberger, but the team’s possible 2022 starter as well.
RB Benny Snell Jr. – After missing the Steelers first three preseason games with an unspecified injury, it appears as though running back Benny Snell Jr. will finally make his 2021 debut on Friday night against the Panthers. Is Snell playing for a spot on the 53-man roster Friday night or being showcased for a possible trade? The answer to both of those questions could certainly be yes. The Steelers could certainly decide to keep four total running backs plus fullback Derek Watt on their 53-man roster this year but the closer we get to the final cutdown day the more it seems like that won’t be the case. In short, it seems like either Snell or fellow running back Kalen Ballage might not make the 53-man roster a few weeks from now. Friday night, look for Snell to not only get a lot of playing time on offense, but on special teams as well. He’s an accomplished special teams player and that helps his cause. He needs a great overall showing Friday night, and it will be interesting to see if he can deliver one.
DB Tre Norwood – The Steelers spent a seventh-round draft pick on Norwood this year and they did so because they really liked his position flexibility. Norwood, who has played the most preseason snaps of any Steelers player so far, figures to get a chance to show off his position flexibility Friday night against the Panthers as he’s expected to see playing time at the nickel cornerback spot in addition to probably playing some at free safety. The Steelers are looking at all possible slot nickel candidates this offseason and especially on the heels of second-year defensive back Antoine Brooks Jr. needing to be waived injured a few days ago. While Norwood is a huge longshot to be the Steelers Week 1 slot nickel cornerback, it’s still a possibility just the same. Look for Norwood to log a lot of playing time Friday night with a few snaps coming on special teams as well.
TE Zach Gentry – Who will be the Steelers third tight end this year? As the Steelers enter their final preseason game, it certainly seems like Gentry, the team’s former fifth-round draft pick out of Michigan, is in a battle with Kevin Rader, a former undrafted free agent, who was with the team last season with most of his time spent on the practice squad. Gentry has made strides in his blocking this summer. He also played ahead of Rader in the team’s third preseason game. Another strong showing Friday night by Gentry as a blocker won’t hurt his cause. He also needs to show up on special teams Friday night against the Panthers. Gentry and Rader should both get plenty of playing time.
OLB Jamir Jones – While there has been quite a bit of talk about rookie outside linebacker Quincy Roche possibly making the 53-man roster this year instead of veteran outside linebacker Cassius Marsh, fellow outside linebacker Jamir Jones is probably the one with the better shot of doing so. Jones has played a lot more combined defensive and special teams snaps than Roche has during the preseason for starters. Additionally, Jones has registered four total special teams tackles so far during the preseason while Roche hasn’t been credited with any. Jones figures to see a ton of playing time Friday night against the Panthers and not only at both outside linebacker positions, but on special teams as well.
CB Shakur Brown – On the heels of the Steelers waiving Brooks Jr. as injured this past week, there’s seemingly now an open cornerback spot on the 53-man roster up for grabs. Brown, who did not have a great showing in the team’s third preseason game, should have an opportunity to redeem himself Friday night in Charlotte, NC against the Panthers. Brown was a high priority undrafted free agent signing by the Steelers this offseason and so that means they expected big things from him. He’s helped his cause during the preseason on special teams and Friday night he needs to help his cause on defense. If the Steelers don’t go outside the organization to find another defensive back in the next few weeks, Brown has a tiny chance at making the 53-man roster and especially if he plays exceptionally well Friday night. Expect him to play quite a bit Friday night and in the slot to boot.
LS Christian Kuntz – Wait, who? Yes, it seems as though there is a tightly contested long snapper battle going on entering the Steelers final preseason game. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said as much during his Wednesday press conference. Kuntz, who was on the Steelers practice squad last year, is challenging incumbent long snapper Kameron Canaday for his job entering Friday night’s preseason finale. Because of that, look for Kuntz to get a lot of work against the Panthers to see if he can fully wrestle away the job from Canaday, who has been the Steelers long snapper since 2017.
WR Mathew Sexton – Can Sexton run his way onto the Steelers 53-man roster Friday night? It’s certainly possible and Tomlin said as much on Wednesday. Sexton has had a few nice returns so far during the preseason and another one or two Friday night against the Panthers could result in him making fellow wide receiver and return man Ray-Ray-McCloud expendable. Tomlin referenced Stefan Logan winning a roster spot during the team’s preseason finale against the Panthers over a decade ago with an 80-yard punt return for a touchdown. Sexton did not play any offensive snaps in the team’s third preseason game so look for him to get some Friday night against the Panthers. Also look for him to return both kickoffs and punts Friday night to see if he can break one or two big ones.