Meaningful Season Finale Means Sidelines For Youngsters

By Matthew Marczi

As is often the case with most teams thanks to an assortment of injuries, the Pittsburgh Steelers currently have a plethora of young, inexperienced players on the roster that they don’t know much about. They are heading into their last opportunity of the regular season to show what they can do…the only problem is that the season finale with the Cleveland Browns is far from meaningless.

Can the Steelers afford their young talent some playing time today without jeopardizing their chances of actually winning the game? In some cases, they may not really have much of a choice.

With both wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and outside linebacker Jason Worilds listed as questionable to play, it’s likely that the depth will be utilized at these two positions even if they do play. Mike Tomlin has already said that Chris Carter and Stevenson Sylvester will both likely play some.

Meanwhile, Markus Wheaton, the team’s third-round rookie wide receiver, could be in for some increased playing time, although he further injured his hand that forced him to miss time earlier this season.

After five straight weeks—and six out of seven weeks—of playing just three or four snaps, Wheaton saw the field 29 times last week against the Green Bay Packers, or 48.3 percent of Pittsburgh’s offensive snaps. His 49 snaps against the Detroit Lions at 62 percent of the total offensive snaps is the only time Wheaton saw the field as frequently.

Wheaton has only been targeted 12 times, catching six for 64 yards, and has played a total of 153 snaps, so it would be good to get him some work in what will most likely be the last game of the season. Likewise with Derek Moye and his 42 total offensive snaps, who has two receptions on four targets and one touchdown, with one drop.

The Steelers already have three rookies in the starting lineup, those being obviously Le’Veon Bell at running back and both Jarvis Jones and Vince Williams at linebacker. The first two should see the majority of the snaps, while Williams is often taken off the field in the frequently used quarters package.

There are other young players that it would be nice to see take a few snaps though, such as the undrafted rookie defensive end Brian Arnfelt. He was promoted from the practice squad a couple weeks ago, but saw just two snaps against the Cincinnati Bengals and none against the Packers.

Realistically, either he or fellow young player needing snaps Hebron Fangupo will be a game day inactive, if not both. With Brett Keisel back and Cameron Heyward, Steve McLendon, Ziggy Hood, and Al Woods all more experienced and part of a solid rotation, the Steelers don’t need to dress six linemen, let alone seven.

Meanwhile, rookie safety Shamarko Thomas hasn’t seen a snap on defense since he was injured on his fourth play against the Buffalo Bills in Week 10. The Steelers drafted him in the fourth round with high hopes, having traded away their 2014 third round pick to select him, but he’s been replaced with veteran Will Allen for the past seven weeks, and that doesn’t seem likely to change in the season finale. Still, he’s played nearly 200 snaps as a rookie, which is nothing to sneeze at.

If the Steelers are able to jump out to an early lead and more or less put the game away early, perhaps some of these young players will get an opportunity to state their case for the future in a game situation, but barring that, don’t expect to see them on the field too often today.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • Nolrog

    Steelers play at 1 today too, so there’s not the chance they’d know the outcome before they started.

    Still, too many things need to happen for them to make it, so it’s unlikley. They should play as many kids as possible to get them some reps (and heck, it’s still the Browns we’re playing, we should beat them even with kids getting time.)

  • Callentown

    The game may have the slightest bit of meaning because of NFL algebra, but as far as I am concerned, the season has been a waste with little gained.

    Bell is the real deal. Otherwise, an embarrassment to this franchise by starting 0-4 pre-season and 0-4 season, looking completely unprepared and essentially taking themselves out of the playoffs before we even got out of September.

    The younger players could be getting better instead of sitting and we may have more answers for next season. Just sayin..

  • cencalsteeler

    I have a hunch Ben and AB will be playing a lot of catch today. Ben wants AB to break that record.

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    If kc don’t play to win i believe will be a huge mistake on andy reid being as so much is on the line for other teams making this week really the start of playoffs because of all the win or go home scenarios and being that they are already locked in this could give them confidence because they have been stacking up losses since starting 9-0 i have a feeling they’re gonna be one and done

  • Steve

    Steelers should be running a lot today. They will throw to keep the Brownies honest but when you have a horse you don’t keep it in the stall. Callen – don’t know how you say this season was a waist? Yes we lost the 1st 4 but Steelers are 6-2 the last 8 games. Look at all the rookies who are starting, we must get younger.

  • Chad H

    And the Chiefs go for the lose by benching their starters.