The Pittsburgh Steelers will close out their 2014 preseason schedule Thursday night against the Carolina Panthers at Heinz Field and below are several players worth keeping a close eye on in this game.
Darrius Heyward-Bey – After the praise that Heyward-Bey received from head coach Mike Tomlin during his Tuesday press conference, I expect that the former first round draft pick of the Oakland Raiders will be a busy man Thursday night on special teams against the Panthers. After missing the first preseason game with a concussion, Heyward-Bey has logged seven special teams snaps in the last two games. One would think he will see at least that many Thursday night. Look for him to be on all four of the primary units. This is a big game for him.
Brett Keisel – Tomlin said Thursday that he’s going to throw Keisel into the deep end of the pool this week to see just how well he swims. In other words, he wants to see what kind of football shape that the veteran is in after missing all of training camp. How many snaps will Keisel play? More than 25? How will he look during those snaps? I will be watching him closely.
Landry Jones – There’s a good chance that Jones plays the entire game Thursday night like he did last year in the preseason finale and he certainly could stand to use the extra work. Tomlin said Tuesday that he’s looking for “consistent, above-the-line play” out of the former fourth-round draft, who might be headed for the practice squad if he doesn’t deliver just that. It’s time for him to show some long-term upside as this will likely hopefully be the last time we see him play until next year during the preseason.
Howard Jones – Jones really needs a strong showing Thursday night if he expects to make the final 53 man roster. While he has been around the football a lot so far during the preseason, as evidenced by his three fumble recoveries, he really needs to show more on special teams as that’s what is going to decide whether or not he sticks. He should get a lot of playing time in this game.
Josh Mauro – With Cameron Heyward likely to sit this game out, Keisel will start on the right side. After he’s done swimming in the deep end of the pool, Mauro figures to be the next man up. He’s still likely a long shot to make the final 53, but a strong showing certainly won’t hurt his cause.
Justin Brown – Heading into the preseason, Brown seemed like a lock to make the final 53 man roster this year, but after being pretty much invisible in the first three exhibition games, I’m not so sure we can say that right now. Regardless, he needs to stick out in this game of scrubs or else he might just be headed back to practice squad once again.
Nick Williams – With the Steelers releasing Brian Arnfelt this week, I suspect the team is looking hard at Williams to be a member of the practice squad this season. Will he get into the game before Ethan Hemer and Mauro this week? He should play a lot and needs to show long-term upside. He very well could be going up against former Steelers draft pick Chris Scott in this game and that’s one player he should be able to dominate.
David Paulson – Where was Paulson last week on offense? Zero snaps. Count his special teams snaps closely this week as well as it looks like he is outside of the bubble heading into this final preseason game.
Rob Blanchflower – Blanchflower finally got some good burn last week on offense and special teams but it might be too late. Like the aforementioned Williams, he might be getting a good look Thursday night for the practice squad.
Stephen Houston – Could the last running back in be the one that makes the practice squad? Houston and Josh Harris are the only backups left after the cuts this past week and both figure to get a lot of playing time after Cheech and Chong are done.
Will Allen – Oh, hello, Will, glad you could finally re-join the party. Will you be the starting strong safety with Troy Polamalu sitting this game out? Also, will you get burn on special teams in this game? Just how safe is your roster spot?
Jordan Zumwalt – We’re not even sure if Zumwalt is finally over his groin injury. If he is, it’s time for him to show Thursday night that he’s worthy of a practice squad spot. Will Danny Smith even let him play on special teams if he does suit up?