Week One of the preseason is about learning who can set themselves apart in game action. From there, players who stood out may see a bit more work on their plate to see how they respond. They may play up a unit or see a bigger role on the field in Week 2.
That’s the process the Steelers are in the thick of as they move into the stadium once again for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff against the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday night.
The key for this game will be progression. Whatever happened in Week 1, players have a chance to wipe the slate clean with progression. With that in mind, who are five players who have a chance to sway their stock in a big way in preseason Week 2?
Layne is the exact example of a player where you are looking for progression. Layne was a former wide receiver who fell to round three because he was raw, despite great size and ball skills. With that in mind, the leap from Big 10 football to preseason football was on display front and center for the rookie from Michigan State.
“It looked a little big for him at times,” noted head coach Mike Tomlin. “I’m sure it was a valuable experience for him but not necessarily a positive experience for him.”
Tomlin summed up his performance in Week 1 well. It was not positive. He looked hesitant and gave up easy receptions. However, it was valuable. You cannot simulate the speed of the NFL. Layne needs as many reps within that speed to see his reactionary skills.
Layne was able to take the first punch of the NFL. Now, he has to show that he ready to swing back. For Layne, you are looking for confidence in coverage, which would show that the game had slowed down a bit after the initial week one shock.
Rudolph will get the second preseason start of his NFL career on Saturday. Last year, Rudolph was in a similar spot to Layne and saw the initial speed as a waking up experience. Rudolph bounced back from a poor start in week two last year to put together a decent end to his preseason. He spent the season inactive as the third quarterback last year and came into training camp with more confidence.
It can be argued that last week was the best we have seen from Rudolph. Now, he has a real chance to cement the backup spot for 2019. A good start this week and he is the leader in the clubhouse. A poor start will make it tough to beat Josh Dobbs.
For Rudolph, the thing to watch is his ability to work the pocket as pressure gets closer. You want to see him get through his progressions quickly and not latch onto certain players or looks. And of course, not turn the football over.
Many walked away from the first preseason game disappointed in Layne but impressed with the performance of Gilbert. That was easy to do as Gilbert flashed with a tackle, 1 1/2 sacks, and a forced fumble. However, Tomlin was quick to note in his press conference that while Layne struggled, it was against starting NFL players. While Gilbert excelled, they were in snaps 80-90 of the game. The difference in competition has to be noted.
However, an increased role for Gilbert will be noted as well. Gilbert proved that he is better than the fourth quarter of a preseason game. How does he look against backup NFL players? Look for Gilbert to see the field much earlier this week than the week before. This will be a true test to see just how quickly he is picking things up.
Holton spent three years with the Raiders before signing in Pittsburgh and has 11 career receptions, but has stayed in the NFL with special teams ability. Last week, we mentioned the potential of Diontae Spencer pushing Ryan Switzer and Eli Rogers with speed and special teams prowess. While Spencer was a loser from last week, Holton showed well on special teams and hauled in two passes for 65 yards.
If he can turn in back to back impressive performances, he will be a wide receiver that will be hard to cut.
Skipper was a winner from the Steelers first preseason game. However, he got all of his work done late in the game. Similar to Gilbert, Skipper has earned a chance to move up a unit and see how he looks against tougher competition. With Sutton Smith sidelined, a low-end roster spot at linebacker is on the line. Stringing together two straight games, and thriving against better players will give Skipper a chance to make the roster in Week 3.