The Pittsburgh Steelers have one preseason game left, but few starters will see the field, as the team slowly transitions from preseason mode to preparing for New England in Week 1. Players in Week 4 of the preseason are the ones still competing for depth chart positioning, a roster spot, or just looking to highlight themselves for the next team.
So, the players to watch in this game may be backups, depth players, or even practice squad members. However, players have parlayed a strong Week 4 performance into an NFL career. Who are five players to watch in a game that may not have many noticeable names?
Skipper has been one of the best stories of the preseason. He has posted a sack in each game, and has added a couple of hits, hurries a forced fumble and a fumble recovery on top of that. Skipper went from a player looking to get noticed to a fringe 53-man roster player. Could another sack get him over the edge?
For Skipper, the biggest question may also be special teams usage. Reserve linebackers that make the roster almost always are multiple-phase contributors, but Skipper has logged three snaps so far. Will he get a shot in Week 4? This is worth watching.
After the draft, Mike Tomlin noted that Marcus Allen was a player they were expecting to step into a dime role for the Steelers. But that job seems to be in the hands of Kam Kelly, who the Steelers found in the AAF. With Jordan Dangerfield ahead of Allen as a better tackler and special teams factor, Allen has gone from a player looking to contribute to a player looking to crack the top 53.
With Sean Davis sidelined, Kelly might not even play in this game, and Dangerfield may not see much time either. Allen should get at least a half of action and should get a handful of special teams snaps. Can he stand out and get on the roster?
Technically, this is a player we should not be looking to watch. Washington has done enough between last year and this preseason. The question with him is whether he can translate preseason dominance into NFL success. However, when Ben Roethlisberger and the starters played on Sunday, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Donte Moncrief, Eli Rogers, and Ryan Switzer all played with Roethlisberger more than Washington.
Washington can make plays with Mason Rudolph all he wants, but he needs to establish that connection with Roethlisberger. If Washington plays, it shows the Steelers still want to see more consistency and that Roethlisberger still does not have trust. If he is sitting, the team has a role for him early into the season.
Wide receivers who could take advantage of Washington not playing much are Diontae Spencer and Johnny Holton, who are players on the bubble.
Mike Tomlin has not announced the backup quarterback and Josh Dobbs is expected to start on Thursday. However, every indication is that Rudolph is going to be the backup. Rudolph will likely close out the first half on Thursday, go into the half to re-group and lead a drive after making halftime adjustments. This will be a good test to see how Rudolph can handle coming in cold, and using halftime to re-group and lead a drive.
Rudolph needs to dominate this performance. There will not be many NFL players on the field when he enters the game. There are no excuses, as this is a situation a backup quarterback needs to be able to thrive in. Anything less than excellence in this spot should draw questions.
2019 DRAFT PICKS
The 2019 draft class will see plenty of work in this game. For each player, this will be a great test of how much they have grown from the first OTA session or preseason game.
Even Devin Bush is expected to get another series or so of play-calling experience as he gets ready to square off with Tom Brady in Week 1.
Diontae Johnson has been banged up all preseason, but did catch a touchdown, and almost hauled in two in his only preseason game. The Steelers want to get Johnson ready for NFL action, but do not need him in Week 1, so he should see plenty of work.
Justin Layne was picked on relentlessly against NFL starters in Week 1. Since then, the competition has not been as intense, but Layne has acclimated to the NFL. Layne leads the team in defensive snaps this preseason, and now it is time to see him take what he has learned and make a play against lower competition.
Benny Snell has done well in short-yardage situations but lacks real speed. Snell missed Week 3 with an injury but is expected to get work in Week 4 to see if he is ready for the regular season. His special-teams ability may be what sends Trey Edmunds to the practice squad, and gets him active in Week 1, though.
Zach Gentry has played well when he has been healthy, but like Snell and Johnson has missed too much time to feel comfortable about his Week 1 impact. We will want to see Gentry show growth as a blocker.
Sutton Smith missed the first two weeks but came back to log 14 special teams snaps. This was always his path to the roster, and another week of core special teams play may get him back in the coaches good graces.
Lastly, Derwin Gray has transitioned well from tackle to guard. One more strong performance will ensure he spends a season on the Steelers practice squad. Every draft pick except Bush will see heavy snaps with plenty to prove this week.