While Week 3 of the preseason is the time where coaches get the longest look at their starters, Week 2 is a chance for the lower-on-the-roster players to push to get time in that key preseason game. Some of the winners of Week 1 saw more time and bigger roles, while the losers were looking to rebound.
Who set themselves apart this week’s as winners and losers in the Steelers’ 17-7 win over Kansas City?
I know, it is the preseason. I know, some of it was against backups. Still, Bud Dupree is playing for a contract in 2019 and he sure looks motivated to make the most of a huge financial opportunity. To start, it is nice to know that Dupree does not have an injury, as the last three offseasons brought a lingering issue of some sort.
Dupree played into the second quarter against the Chiefs and picked up two sacks. The competition was not elite, but his ability to turn the corner around the edge has always been an issue and was on display in multiple pass-rush attempts. It is early but things are trending up for Dupree during a time where they have not been in the past.
Burns got a chance to start in place of an injured Joe Haden after missing Week 1 and got some much-needed work. Burns performed well with a tackle on Tyreek Hill early in the game followed by being in on a play along with Terrell Edmunds that resulted in a fumble. Burns deflected a pass later in the game. Overall, he showed confidence that he seemingly lost a year before.
Steven Nelson and Haden are still clearly ahead of him. However, he has cemented his status on the roster and gives the team cornerback depth for what feels like the first time ever.
Pre-game, we wanted to see Gilbert with a bigger workload. Gilbert performed well in the first game but did so late in the game. With Devin Bush and Vince Williams on the sideline, Gilbert was able to get on the field next to Tyler Matakevich late in the first half. The duo held up well together, and the increased workload against better competition did not seem to be a factor.
Gilbert played into the second half, blitzing, covering and defending the run to finish with four tackles. He also contributed on special teams. With versatility and lack of depth at outside linebacker, Gilbert may be on the inside of the 53-man roster.
The noted outside linebacker depth has given Skipper a chance to make the roster. Skipper delivered a sack in Week 1, and followed it up with a strong performance in Week 2. Skipper recovered a fumble, added a sack, a tackle and drew a few pressures. His pass-rush plan and dip around the edge is notable, and he provided on special teams as well.
Ola Adenyi just had surgery and Sutton Smith has yet to see an NFL field. All of the sudden Skipper is in the driver’s seat to be the fourth outside linebacker behind Anthony Chickillo.
CAM SUTTON, MIKE HILTON, KAM KELLY
All three have to be put together for their versatility. In the second half, Hilton moved from the slot to free safety. Kelly moved from safety to the slot and Sutton moved in and out of the slot, playing outside as well. This is crucial as the NFL becomes a more spread out league. Running backs and tight ends can catch and wide receivers can run and block. Teams motion to force teams to reveal their coverage. Having players who can move around and disguise coverages post-motion is vital to defenses in today’s NFL.
The team swapped personnel almost every play in the second half to test the defensive communication and versatility of the group and things went well. Due to versatility and communication, Hilton has a bigger role than before. Sutton is going to play plenty of dime snaps, and the team is set to run more dime than ever before, and the versatility of Kelly has locked him onto the 53-man roster. The coaches have to be pleased with their second-half experimenting.
The baton looks like it has been passed. Mike Tomlin downplayed it post-game, but Mason Rudolph may have won the starting backup job Saturday night. Rudolph started Week 2, and while he showed he has learning to do, he also was poised in leading a touchdown drive in the second quarter.
Dobbs followed that drive up with an interception in the red zone. When the two were drafted, the general opinion was that Rudolph had more upside and could be the better prospect. Dobbs surprised many when he won a camp battle last year fair and square. However, now it seems apparent that Rudolph should move forward as the backup.
We all know Vance McDonald, but behind him, there is not much depth, especially now that Jesse James is gone. With Zach Gentry injured and missing valuable snaps, the team is looking for someone to step up. Early into the first half, Xavier Grimble dropped a pass right in his hands. Kevin Rader caught two passes for 20 yards but ended up with two holding penalties, as well (one was declined). Aside from that, there is not much to speak of.
The depth at tight end is an issue. Grimble does not seem ready to step up and Gentry is not ready, period. Is the team’s backup tight end on a different roster right now? McDonald was not in Pittsburgh at this time two years ago.
Coming into training camp the idea was that Matt Feiler would be pushed for the starting right tackle job. Whether it be third-round pick Chukwuma Okorafor in year two, Zach Banner who has gotten into better shape, or Jerald Hawkins back from injury, the team had options. Through two weeks, not only is Feiler ahead of all of them, none of those options even seem ready for backup duty.
Okorafor gave up a sack in the first quarter, Banner had a worse game than the week before which included a hold, and Hawkins looks as though the injuries have him needing to start back at square one with his development. Is this the first sign of Mike Munchak not being in the room?
Eli Rogers started over Switzer in the slot and caught two passes for 31 yards. Rogers night ended early while Switzer played deep into the second half. It seems clear the team sees Rogers as the starting slot receiver over Switzer. However, on top of that, Diontae Johnson started as the punt returner, while Johnny Holton started as the kick returner.
We know Johnson is making the team. Suddenly, it is looking clear that Switzer is at best the number six receiver in Pittsburgh behind Johnson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Donte Moncrief, and Rogers.
Holton has more NFL experience than Switzer and brings more special teams value. If Holton can win the kick return job, Switzer is in a tough spot. Heck, even Diontae Spencer had a strong return. Switzer went from a player competing to get starting slot snaps to a player in a battle with the numbers. His usage in Week 3 will be noteworthy.
Let’s be honest, the only thing we are worried about with Moncrief is his chemistry with Ben Roethlisberger. Without Roethlisberger, Moncrief did start, but he fumbled his only catch.
Washington has put in back-to-back strong performances, leading the team in receiving both weeks. He has proven that he is ready for bigger competition. Moncrief is the starter, but Washington is pushing him. On top of that, Johnson struggled early in his preseason debut before hauling in two touchdowns, one being held back by a questionable penalty.
In a perfect world, Johnson and Washington ascend next to Smith-Schuster to form a young, high upside group. Moncrief has a place on the roster, but the progression of Washington and Johnson along with his fumble make the leash tighter moving forward.