The Pittsburgh Steelers were embarrassed last week in their 31-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, what was supposed to be a dress rehearsal for the regular season. Despite that, however, it doesn’t seem as though the coaching staff is overly concerned with forcing extra reps onto the starting units, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Here is what I will be watching for with the offense in mind for the preseason finale.
Second-year quarterback Landry Jones is expected to take the vast majority of the reps in this game—possibly even all of them, although that’s not yet certain. He could very well be playing with his football future.
If he struggles as much as he has been, he could force the Steelers’ hand and cut him, carrying only two quarterbacks. They could carry him on the practice squad, of course. Right now it doesn’t seem as though there would be much of a market for him.
The running back position has also gotten a lot more interesting since Tuesday. The Steelers cut three of their running backs, leaving just Josh Harris and newest signee Stephen Houston as the only two remaining fringe candidates. Houston is an interesting candidate from a measurable perspective. I anticipate that the two will get a lot of work to find out amongst themselves who gets to stay on the practice squad.
There’s still a lot to look at from the wide receiver position. Markus Wheaton could still use some work in his first year as a starter, while Martavis Bryant could stand to show some consistency, even if they are both assured a roster spot.
The intriguing element lies behind the top four, with three primary candidates vying for only one or two spots on the 53-man roster.
Second-year receiver Justin Brown has more or less been the presumptive fifth receiver throughout the offseason, but the reality is that he has shown very little during the preseason. He needs to show something to make sure he makes the roster. Darrius Heyward-Bey stepped up last week, and will need to continue to do so on both offense and special teams.
Meanwhile, Derek Moye will have to hope to get some quality opportunities, which have been scarce. While I wouldn’t put it completely out of hand, it’s not overly likely that the Steelers keep seven wide receivers between the roster and the practice squad, especially with Dri Archer in the mix.
There’s still quite a lack of clarity at the third tight end position as well. Only David Paulson has been able to exhibit anything as a pass catcher, but his blocking has left much to be desired. Michael Palmer is a player that does a little bit of everything. Rookie Rob Blanchflower needs to really step up—and play well on special teams—to show that he doesn’t need a year of seasoning on the practice squad.
Finally, we have the offensive line, and there should be lots of work for the second-string linemen. If Cody Wallace doesn’t play, then we’ll have our third extended look at Wesley Johnson as a center in three weeks. He has acclimated himself well so far and can solidify his roster spot tonight, but it would still be good to see him show some of his versatility.
I don’t think that the Steelers will give up yet on Mike Adams, but it’s possible that the Steelers could look at the waiver wire to try to upgrade Guy Whimper if he has a shaky performance as the presumptive eighth lineman. It’s also possible that they only carry eight linemen in total and say goodbye to Whimper.
Meanwhile, there’s still at least one practice squad spot to go to an offensive lineman. One would assume that Chris Hubbard, who spent all of last year there, would be in the driver’s seat, but rookie Will Simmons has quietly performed reasonably well, particularly in the last game. He could provide competition for Hubbard with a good performance tonight.