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.
Browns’ Kevin Stefanski Named PFWA Coach of the Year
Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski has been named 2020 NFL Coach of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America, the organization announced Thursday.
Stefanski led the Browns to an 11-5 record and their first playoff win since 1994 in his first season as a head coach. He is just the second Browns head coach to win the award in franchise history, joining Marty Schottenheimer in 1986.
A loaded Browns offensive reached its full potential under the play calling and tutelage of Stefanski, finishing as the league’s third-best rushing team and committing the fourth-fewest turnovers.
Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield also took a leap forward in 2020 under Stefanski, passing for 26 touchdowns and a career-low eight interceptions. Mayfield’s 95.9 passer rating was also the best of his young career.
The Buffalo Bills also earned a pair of honors for their outstanding 2020 performance. General manager Brandon Beane was named PFWA NFL Executive of the Year, while offensive coordinator was awarded Assistant Coach of the Year.
The Bills owned the NFL’s second-ranked offense, as quarterback Josh Allen became a bonafide MVP candidate under Daboll. Allen completed a career-high 69.2% of his passes, while also tossing 37 touchdowns, seven more than through his first two seasons combined.
Beane was the mastermind behind Buffalo’s addition of wide receiver Stefon Diggs form the Minnesota Vikings, who proved one of the most successful trade acquisitions in recent memory. Diggs was named a First-Team All-Pro after leading the league with 127 receptions and 1,535 yards. He also caught eight touchdowns.
Report: NFL Execs Believe Deshaun Watson Will Fetch Three First-Round Draft Picks
NFL executives believe that if traded, Houston Texans quarterback DeShaun Watson could fetch three first-round draft picks, according to a report by Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.
The Steelers have been mentioned as a possible destination for the unhappy Houston star, though one seen as a significant long shot. The most recent odds from SportsBetting.com gives the Steelers 30/1 odds at landing Watson, if he’s traded.
Watson has a no-trade clause and could dictate where the Texans are able to trade him. He grew unhappy with the organization over the process used to hire new general manager Nick Caserio from the New England Patriots.
Watson was the league’s most prolific passer in 2020, throwing for 4,823 yards for an 8.9 yards per attempt average, both of which led the league. He also threw 33 touchdowns compared to seven interceptions and had a quarterback rating of 112.4.
The Steelers have traded a first-round draft pick just once since 1968, when they traded their 2020 first-rounder to Miami for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
The Steelers have traded multiple first-round picks just once in their history, when they exchanged their top selections in 1958 and 1959 and linebacker Marv Matuszak with San Francisco for quarterback Earl Morrall and guard Mike Sandusky. The Steelers traded Morrall just over a year later to Detroit for Bobby Layne.
NFL Planning for Another Offseason Impacted by COVID-19
The NFL is bracing for another disrupted offseason, as the prospects of having players and coaches vaccinated in time for a normal minicamp and OTA process seems bleak, NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith said on Tuesday.
The start of training camps could once again be impacted, as well.
Smith, in a conference call with NFL agents, said there is no “rosy outlook” on widespread vaccinations being available for players and team staff before August, as reported by Tom Pelissero of NFL Network.
“We’re planning for an offseason that looks a lot like [the 2020] offseason,” Smith said.
The NFL has not updated its offseason calendar beyond the 2021 NFL Draft, which is scheduled to be held in Cleveland April 29-May 1.
After that, would normally come rookie camps, organized team activities and minicamps in short order, but like last season, it appears most of that will either not take place or take place virtually.
Through the 2020 season, 262 NFL Players and 460 team personnel tested positive for COVID-19, even with enhanced health and safety protocols that included holding many meetings virtually and closing the facilities on non-essential days.
The Pittsburgh Steelers moved their training camp to Heinz Field in 2020 due to health and safety rules that would have prevented fans from attending if held as typically at St. Vincent College near Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
Steelers president Art Rooney II has stated his desire to return to Latrobe for 2021. It’s not clear if the team would do that if they once again had to abide by pandemic-related health and safety protocols.