The Pittsburgh Steelers will play the Detroit Lions Sunday afternoon at home and that contest will be the team’s third and final preseason game of 2022. While there will understandably be a lot of eyes on several Steelers players that will see action Sunday against the Lions, I wanted to highlight eight players this week I feel need to be watched very close in this final exhibition contest of 2022.
QB Mitch Trubisky – While he hasn’t done anything to lose the starting quarterback job through two preseason games, Trubisky certainly hasn’t separated himself from rookie Kenny Pickett and fellow veteran Mason Rudolph just the same. In Trubisky’s defense, he’s played all of 28 offensive snaps in the Steelers’ first two preseason games and that amount pales in comparison to the playing time that Pickett (42) and Rudolph (55) have both received. Trubisky has a chance to make a big statement on Sunday against the Lions as he’ll start the preseason finale and likely play at least three series. To date, Trubisky is 9-of-15 passing in the preseason for 123 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. It would be great to see him culminate the 2022 preseason with his post showing in a Steelers’ uniform to date.
RB Najee Harris – After missing the first two preseason games with a foot injury, Harris is poised to make his 2022 debut on Sunday against the Lions. Harris has been pining to play some during the preseason and according to what head coach Mike Tomlin said on Friday, the former first round draft pick out of Alabama will get his wish on Sunday at Acrisure Stadium. It’s unknown how much Harris will play Sunday against the Lions and with good reason. He might only touch the football a few times so it will be interesting to see how he does in real game action. More importantly, Harris needs to exit his Sunday playing time healthy and ready for the start of the 2022 regular season.
G Kevin Dotson – On the surface and based on how things reportedly transpired this past week in practice, Dotson figures to make his first preseason start of 2022 on Sunday against the Lions. The starting left guard spot is still very much up in the air entering the preseason finale and thus a solid showing by Dotson against the Lions would figure to win him a Week 1 starting spot. As a whole, the Steelers’ offensive line play during the preseason has been way below-the-line so Dotson could easily exit Sunday’s game as the best of the bunch if he plays well.
WR Tyler Vaughns – With one preseason game remaining, Vaughns certainly has done his best to put himself in contention to make the 53-man roster. Through two preseason games, Vaughns has registered six receptions for 88 yards and a touchdown with a long of 25 yards. He also has done a great job of breaking tackles after the catch. Theoretically, Vaughns enters the preseason finale on the outside of the roster bubble at the wide receiver position and that might mainly be due to him not being a notable special teams player. Even so, anything can happen in this final preseason game and thus Vaughns needs to keep showing out to put himself in position for an opening, should one materialize. At worst, Vaughns seems like he has a great shot at being a practice squad player to open the 2022 regular season. He figures to get quite a bit of playing time against the Lions.
ILB Mark Robinson – Coo-coo-ca-choo, Mr. Robinson, the Steelers defense needs you more than you will know, wo, wo, wo. God bless you please, Mr. Robinson, the 53 holds a place for those who can play, hey, hey, hey. Hey, hey, hey. In all seriousness, Robinson, one of the Steelers’ seventh round draft picks this year, has played extremely well in the team’s first two preseason games. Sunday against the Lions, Robinson figures to get some varsity playing time. He’s all but locked up a 53-man roster spot at this point and he’s now looking to show that he might be able to contribute on defense during the regular season sooner rather than later. Personally, I expect Robinson to play a ton against the Lions and thus lead the team in total tackles. He’s got to be one of the most exciting seventh round draft picks to watch in the NFL this year.
OLB Hamilcar Rashed Jr. – In a bit of a surprising move this past week, the Steelers terminated the contract of outside linebacker Genard Avery, who was signed early in the offseason to potentially be the third on the depth chart at his position. With Avery being jettisoned, that opens the door for Rashed to not only make the 53-man roster, but also to be the main backup behind starters T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. The early word is that Rashed will start Sunday against the Lions as Highsmith is once again expected to sit with a rib injury. Rashed, who was signed after training camp got underway, played well last week in the team’s road preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. If he can build on that performance from last Saturday night, perhaps he can jump fellow outside linebacker Derrek Tuszka on the depth chart. It’s a big game for him.
ILB Marcus Allen – It’s hard to say for sure if Allen will indeed play Sunday against the Lions as he has been battling a hamstring injury since about the time training camp got underway. Because of his injury, Allen is not a lock to make the 53-man roster. Allen, however, is the incumbent up-back on the punt team and an above-the-line special teams player to boot. He also has experience when it comes to playing as a backup inside linebacker and especially in some sub packages. Allen needs a flawless game Sunday against the Lions, and he needs to show that he’s fully healthy in the process. If he can accomplish those two things, he might just secure a 53-man roster spot once again. Allen is scheduled to earn $2.54 million in 2022 so Sunday’s game is a big one for him from a financial standpoint as well.
S Elijah Riley – The Steelers newest player enters the Sunday game against the Lions as a huge long shot to make the 53-man roster and for obvious reasons. Even so, with veteran safety and special teams ace Miles Killebrew banged up all summer, we might just see Riley get extensive playing time on special teams and perhaps even a handful of snaps on defense. Riley is not afraid of contact and thus if he can make a play or two on Sunday against the Lions, just maybe he can make the Week 1 53-man roster if Killebrew needs to go to the Reserve/Injured list. At worst, Riley should have a chance at making the Steelers initial 16-man practice squad with a solid debut in a Steelers’ uniform.