The Pittsburgh Steelers will host the New York Giants Saturday night at Heinz Field for their preseason opener and below are eleven things to look for during the game.
Hey Rookie: Yes, we will start off with the most obvious of the obvious. We are all excited to see what Jarvis Jones, Le\’Veon Bell, Markus Wheaton and Shamarko Thomas can do when they don the black and gold for the first time. Bell, according to head coach Mike Tomlin, will not only see time with the starters, but likely the second team as well. It\’s hard to know whether or not Jones will follow Jason Worilds as you know how Tomlin can be sometimes with young draft picks. He might very well want Jones to play third string for one game to make him even hungrier. Regardless, I can\’t wait to see him drop into coverage, something he didn\’t do much of at Georgia, and play against the run. Wheaton appears to have caught up fast, and he should get some good lucks with the second team. As far as Thomas goes, I want to see if he actually gets used in the slot some. No, I haven\’t forgotten about Landry Jones, but we have a lot of time before we have to worry about him. I\’m not expecting much out of him, so anything above that is gravy right now.
Outside The Zone: We have talked all offseason about how the Steelers were going to incorporate more outside zone this year and now is finally the time to see it action. New offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. has coached it a while and the Steelers appear to have the personnel to run it.
Bruce Alrighty? – I have to admit; I wasn\’t a big fan of the Steelers signing Bruce Gradkowski initially, but have warmed up to the decision over the summer. He really won\’t blow your socks off, but he is smart and a good game manager. We all know that Ben Roethlisberger isn\’t likely to take every snap in 2013, so Gradkowski needs to show that he can be depended on.
The Hyphen Returns – LaRod Stephens-Howling returns to Pittsburgh with an opportunity to not only be the third down and change of pace back, but the kickoff returner as well. I\’m not sure how many chances he will get to return kicks as Tomlin said he wants to give a few of the younger guys a chance to show their skills, or in the case of Reggie Dunn, his speed. The Hyphen should see some time in the backfield, however, and outside of Bell; I probably look forward to watching what he brings to the Steelers offense the most.
End Of The Block – We know David Paulson and Will Johnson can catch, but we now need to see if they can block when lined up as inline tight ends. With Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth likely out until at least Week 7 or so, these two young players will be counted on quite a bit. Paulson has supposedly gotten stronger and improved some as a blocker, but I want to see it firsthand. I also want to see if Johnson is used on the line as well in addition to his time at fullback.
The Middle Men – Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote damn near played every defensive snap last season. Can they do it again? We hope so, but what if they don\’t? The Steelers really have questions that need to be answered as far as depth at the position goes, so in the spotlight Saturday night against the Giants will be Stevenson Sylvester, Marshall McFadden and Kion Wilson. Sylvester and McFadden figure to be the second group on the field together, and they need to play well.
Give Me Five – Now that Plaxico Burress has been lost for the season, the race is on to see which young wide receiver can land the fifth wide receiver spot on the 53 man roster. My top three candidates I\’ve recently discussed, and they are Justin Brown, David Gilreath and Derek Moye. I want to see one of these three kids take a giant step towards that job in this game.
Nose Job – I\’m not very worried about Steve McLendon, but I am worried about who his backup might be. Will we actually get to see defensive end Al Woods get the second team snaps at nose tackle? If we do, what does that say about Hebron Fangupo and Alameda Ta\’amu? Fangupo has yet to take a snap in a Steelers uniform while Ta\’amu hasn\’t seen the field since last preseason. Watch the hand action of each and their ability to two gap and anchor when it\’s called for.
What\’s Eating Gilbert? – Markus Gilbert started the offseason as the new starting left tackle, and he now enters the first preseason game as the starting right tackle after losing his job to Mike Adams. Yes, I will be watching Adams very close in this game as well, but Gilbert might be the one we should worry about the most right now as it appears as though he has had a bad camp. Hopefully when the lights come on he will too.
Swiss Army Kelvin – Just how many positions will Kelvin Beachum play on the offensive line Saturday night? Three? Four? All Five? Last preseason, the Steelers seventh-round draft pick looked bad at both left tackle and left guard. He managed to make the roster, however, and even looked pretty decent at right tackle once Gilbert and Adams went down injured. Beachum worked at center over the course of the offseason, so this is perhaps the position I most look forward to him playing over the course of the preseason.
Hanging Time – The long snapper battle I thought might take place during the preseason was over before it even got started, but the punting battle is still ongoing. Brian Moorman has been pushing Drew Butler hard and that certainly isn\’t a bad thing. First one to shank one might go to the end of the line as this battle figures to go down to the wire. Best hang time wins?