It’s been more than half a year since the Pittsburgh Steelers played a game of football, but that changes tonight against the New York Giants. The team has undergone a lot of changes since the end of the 2013 season, so here are some of the things I will be curious to see when it comes to the offensive side of the ball in the preseason opener.
The Steelers only have one true new starter on the offensive side of the ball, that being second-year wide receiver Markus Wheaton, who is replacing the departed Emmanuel Sanders after a frustrating rookie campaign.
Because of the way his first year in the league went, I’ll be curious to see how frequently Ben Roethlisberger goes to him during the game. He has a similar skill set to Antonio Brown, so if the quarterback can use them somewhat interchangeably, it could make the duo that much deadlier. But more than that, I’ll be interested to see how much longer Wheaton plays than the rest of the starters, who have more playing experience already.
I will also be watching for the usage of the 12 and 13 personnel and how frequently Will Johnson is used as a second or third tight end. If the coaching staff is fully comfortable with him as a full-fledged tight end (who also lead blocks out of the backfield), that could have significant roster implications. We’ll get our first glimpses of that tonight.
On that same token, I want to see the order in which the reserve tight ends come out and play, but more importantly, I want to see who is contributing, and contributing positively, to the special teams units from this group.
I don’t know that we will see much no huddle on display, if any, and I don’t think it particularly matters in the opening preseason game, either. What I am interested to see is whether or not we see a continuation of the trend that began last season, with Roethlisberger getting the ball out quicker and showing more willingness to use his check downs.
The pecking order at wide receiver will definitely be something to watch. I can see Brown and Lance Moore leaving the game pretty early to allow players like Justin Brown, Derek Moye, Martavis Bryant, and even Dri Archer more time on the field earlier. Justin Brown has been working in the slot with the first-team offense, so I want to see if he gets any reps there with Roethlisberger still in the game.
What I will definitely be watching for when it comes to the offensive line is how the unit as a whole communicates in passing rushers between themselves. Mike Munchak seems to have had a positive effect on Marcus Gilbert, and he and David DeCastro, from the sounds of it, have been gelling together quite well in that area, which was a trouble spot a year ago.
How soon does Wesley Johnson enter the game—and at what position? It seems he would be best served starting his career off as an interior lineman as he adds bulk to play the edge positions. That could be what convinces the Steelers to keep Guy Whimper around, who is capable of playing every position but center.
Finally, do any of these running backs begin to separate themselves tonight? They’ll have to make quite a statement for themselves if they hope to make the 53-man roster rather than competing for a spot on the practice squad. That means consistent performances in all four preseason games as well as significant contributions on special teams.