The Pittsburgh Steelers have yet to experience the three-game preseason format, due to the fact that they had the opportunity to play a fourth game this year thanks to their participation in the Hall of Fame game. That gives this upcoming contest against the Carolina Panthers a more familiar feel, and one that should bear likeness to years past.
Generally speaking, very few starters will play, and those who do play will not play for long. Deep-roster players will get extended playing time, as most of the major position battles are already locked in, with only a few end-of-roster positions left to be filled. This will be head coach Mike Tomlin’s 14th season (since there was no preseason last year) carrying out this process.
“It’s a big game for a lot of guys, individually and collectively, for obvious reasons”, he said on Tuesday. “This process is coming to a close, and really, it’s the last opportunity for many of them the state a case for themselves. We’re sensitive to that. We’re working to get them ready to play. And we’re excited about watching them do so”.
Coming down the wire, there are still a lot of significant competitions going on deep in the roster. At running back, you have Kalen Ballage, Benny Snell, and Jaylen Samuels competing for either one or two spots. Zach Gentry and Kevin Rader are battling for the third tight end. The defensive line simply has too many talented players right now. The list can go on.
That’s why the final preseason game is so important for players on the bubble. They can put an exclamation point at the end of their resume—either positively or negatively—based on what they do on the field this week, which will either end with a high-paying job or possibly looking for your life’s work.
Soon, NFL teams will each released 27 players, to cut down from 80-man rosters to the final 53. That’s 864 players suddenly out of a job, though 512 will land on a practice squad at some point. But the reality is that, for hundreds of players, this will be their final week in the NFL.
That’s a tough pill to swallow, no matter how long your shot ever was. When you lose that thing that drove you, when you have to accept that that quest has ended, you have to figure out what’s next. Many will continue their journey and look to come back next year. Most won’t be invited back as several hundred rookies enter the fold.