The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off their first win in the preseason since 2012, in a game in which the first-team units scored two touchdowns and held strong at the goal line, but had to be won by a defensive turnover in the 11th hour. Here are a few of the things I will be watching for on defense in the tune-up game to the regular season.
Nobody on the defensive side of the ball was arrested yesterday, so that’s already a plus.
Otherwise, the Steelers should figure to have their full complement of players on defense for the first time this preseason. That includes both of their two most recent first-round draft picks for the first time, linebackers Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier.
With Shazier missing the first game, Jones provided his splash by recording a sack, of which he only had one last season. Not to be outdone, Shazier was simply everywhere last week and capped it off with an interception as Jones sat out on the sidelines.
Nose tackle Steve McLendon made his preseason debut last week and was at a bit of a disadvantage, not only coming off a concussion, but facing a team that had already played two preseason games. He will need to show tonight that he can do a better job under better circumstances after being turned out of several holes.
Likewise, rookie nose tackle Daniel McCullers also came back down to earth a bit last week after a strong debut in the first preseason game. He entered the game a week ago ahead of Hebron Fangupo, but I will not assume that he will do so again. The battle is not yet won, and Fangupo played well last week.
The Steelers did re-sign Brett Keisel, and has made the trip with the team, but he is not expected to participate in tonight’s game. Still, there is plenty of interest along the defensive line.
On the latest update to the depth chart, as meaningless as it might be, rookie Stephon Tuitt is listed in the starting lineup along with Cameron Heyward. While Heyward is listed at LDE, I must note that he has been listed at LDE all along.
In other words, I’m not going read into this and assume it means that Heyward will be moving back to LDE to eventually make room for Keisel. The focus here should be on the fact that Tuitt, seemingly, is in line to start tonight over Cam Thomas. Unless this last-minute update truly was meaningless.
Ike Taylor has yet to see much action this preseason. With an extended look tonight, and against the Eagles’ offense, I would expect that to change. I will also be watching Cortez Allen, who could use a bit of a rebound from last game.
Most especially, I will be watching for personnel changes with the first-team defense. Because they will be playing longer, I expect to see more normal rotations, if possible against a hurry-up offense.
Aside from regular rotations, I want to see if the Steelers experiment at all with their sub-packages. Does Shamarko Thomas get any playing time? What about some linebackers, like Sean Spence or Terence Garvin? Do run stuffers like McCullers or Vince Williams get any work along the goal line?