The Pittsburgh Steelers are officially halfway through the preseason. The team will get their starters some work in Week 3 against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, but will rest everyone in Week 4 to evaluate the end of the roster.
This is the time for players in roster battles set themselves apart.
The first two games helped dwindle the field but the next two games will decide who is going to win spots. What are the key roster battles to watch over the next two weeks?
We thought we would be watching Mason Rudolph and Josh Dobbs duel it out. Now, heading into Week 3 we are looking at Dobbs vs. Devlin Hodges. Rudolph looked poised in his second career preseason start and has always had the inside track to the back up job.
Dobbs surprised many by beating out Rudolph and Landry Jones last season but has come back down to earth the following year. The surprising play of Hodges has pushed Dobbs to the point where he should not feel comfortable over the next two weeks. An unexpected quarterback duel could be brewing.
Mike Tomlin has not handed Matt Feiler anything yet but the thought is that Feiler has won the starting right tackle spot. With that in mind, the next two games will be about finding their swing tackle. The idea was third-round pick Chukwuma Okorafor would step into that role, but he has struggled to start preseason year two. Zach Banner has presented competition and the two will get plenty of snaps over the next two weeks.
On top of that, watch for Fred Johnson, who has played right and left guard, and Jerald Hawkins who has played both sides at tackle. The two will be competing for the ninth offensive line spot, as well as practice squad positioning.
The Steelers tight end depth is clearly the weakness of their roster. There is Vance McDonald and the rest brings questions. Whether it be Justin Gilbert, and J.J. Wilcox or McDonald and Joe Haden, the Steelers have been active in making a move before final cutdowns to ensure depth at a position of weakness. This year, it would be no surprise if tight end is that spot.
Kevin Rader is nowhere close to pushing rookie fifth-round pick Zach Gentry, except for Gentry’s lack of availability. He did not play in Week 2 of the preseason with an undisclosed injury. Gentry has little competition as the third tight end despite showing little to earn it. On top of that, Xavier Grimble has barely proven he can be a backup. The two may not know who they are competing with, but they are competing these next two weeks.
The last couple of roster spots are pure depth, and should not see the field on offense or defense if things go right. With that in mind, there are a few players who can make the roster due to being core special teams assets.
Trey Edmunds could join his brother on the roster as a special teams contributor who plays all four phases. The surprising special teams contributions of Benny Snell could hinder his chances, but he will be under the spotlight these next few weeks.
Johnny Holton returned kicks last week and made the Raiders as a core special teamer. The question for him is whether the Steelers will keep seven wide receivers, but if they view him as a special teams asset that should be all they need to know.
Tuzar Skipper has impressed with upside as a pass rusher in his limited preseason chances. However, a path to the roster will be showing he can work on special teams over the next two weeks. Sutton Smith has dealt with injury and has not played an NFL game yet but special teams was always his path to the roster. With Ola Adenyi injured and limited depth, these two have an inside track to the 53-man roster but have two weeks to win a roster spot on kick off and punts.
Ulysees Gilbert shined in Week 1 against end of the roster talent and saw a bigger workload the following week against backups. Gilbert once again held his own, which should warrant more snaps this weekend. Look for Gilbert to potentially cement a roster spot with a strong showing.
Lastly, Brian and Marcus Allen can make the roster as extra defensive backs due to special teams capability. Marcus Allen was hyped up this offseason, but has not lived unto expectations, while Brian Allen was drafted as a project and has had a strong camp. Marcus may have the upper hand, but the next two weeks are make and break for both.