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Five Steelers Players to Watch against Buffalo Bills



Steelers CB Joey Porter Jr.
Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Joey Porter Jr. at training camp, Aug. 4, 2023. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

Now that training camp has concluded, the Pittsburgh Steelers welcome the Buffalo Bills to Acrisure Stadium for their second preseason matchup. Some players are rising while others are falling with just two more auditions to state their cases for the 53-man roster. With both head coaches confirming participation for their starters, this matchup will be a good test for each club. Here are five players worth paying close attention to when the game kicks off on Saturday night.

Joey Porter Jr.

After missing the preseason opener against the Bucs, Joey Porter Jr. feels like he should be atop this list. The rookie is already seeing time in the Steelers sub packages and it’s clear that Pittsburgh wants to get him on the field early and often. It’s easy to see why. Porter’s skill set is tailored perfectly to Teryl Austin’s defense which features more man coverage looks than his predecessors. Thanks to his absurdly long wingspan, he has the capability of suffocating wide receivers in coverage.

The explosive Buffalo Bills offense has no shortage of nice playmaking weapons, making this a nice measuring stick for Porter’s development. The biggest thing to watch will be his footwork, both in press and off coverage, which needed to be overhauled coming out of college. Pittsburgh hasn’t had a cornerback with this type of upside in quite a while. The defense already looks good on paper but if the team can accelerate Porter’s learning curve, it could reach a whole new level.

Steelers Calvin Austin III

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Calvin Austin III at training camp, Aug. 8, 2023. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

Calvin Austin III

Speaking of highly anticipated debuts, wide receiver Calvin Austin III put on a show in his first live action in a Steelers uniform. Between his 67-yard touchdown pass and ultimately leading the team in rushing, Austin made quite the first impression. After back to back summers of explosive plays, it was nice to see him get the chance to do it in a stadium setting. Now, the next question is: can he stack consecutive stellar performances together?

Pittsburgh’s offense has been desperately searching for ways to create more explosive plays and Austin’s blazing speed could provide some of that. One interesting thing to note regarding his usage in the preseason opener was that he actually lined up outside on 15 of his 21 snaps, which mirrored his alignment tendency in college at Memphis. Even standing sub 5-foot-8, the Steelers are at least allowing him to get showcase himself as more than just a slot receiver or gadget weapon off the bench. Austin is a lock to make the 53-man roster so long as he’s healthy, but if keeps ascending, he could push for even more playing time on offense.

Steelers Cole Holcomb

Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Cole Holcomb at OTAs, May 25, 2023. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

Cole Holcomb

When Pittsburgh inked inside linebacker Cole Holcomb to a three-year contract at the beginning of free agency, it signaled a belief that he was the answer to their problems. While they still may be the case, his first appearance in the black and gold was a bit of a rough one. He was caught out of position on a play-action fake, missed a couple of tackles and didn’t make much of an impact on defense. However, some context is necessary here. Friday was Holcomb’s first live game action since his season-ending injury back in November.

After seeing 25 snaps on defense against the Bucs, it’s possible that the Steelers are aware that there might be some rust involved. Pittsburgh is very much still in the process of figuring out how to get the best of this newly assembled assortment of backers, but Holcomb is the one they’re expecting to lead the charge. The Steelers don’t necessarily need the absolute best version of Holcomb in mid-August but ideally, they’d like to see him gradually get better and better as the regular season approaches.

Steelers Spencer Anderson

Pittsburgh Steelers rookie offensive lineman Spencer Anderson at training camp, July 30, 2023. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

Spencer Anderson

Spencer Anderson’s NFL debut was certainly a wild one, as he lined up at both guard spots and even took some snaps at right tackle. That’s a pretty impressive feat regardless of who you are. To do it in your first live action is next level stuff. But it’s not anything out of the ordinary for Anderson, who saw reps at all five positions throughout his time at Maryland. That sort of versatility was one of the most intriguing parts of his profile coming out of college and it might come in handy more than originally anticipated.

The Steelers are still searching for a backup center option in the event that Mason Cole would miss time due to an injury. Former third-round pick Kendrick Green’s career has been essentially a disaster from all angles up to this point, with his struggles continuing in the preseason opener. Anderson finally saw some snaps at center during practice this week, but it remains to be seen if he will be given the opportunity to showcase that ability against the Bills. As of right now, you can consider Anderson to be firmly on the roster bubble but he’s doing everything in his power to use his unique skill set to work his way on to this roster.

DeMarvin Leal Mitch Trubisky

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end DeMarvin Leal defends quarterback Mitch Trubisky at training camp, Aug. 8, 2023. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

DeMarvin Leal

One of the biggest wild cards on the roster right now is second year defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal. Last year, we saw Leal flash early in the preseason as a pass rusher, unveiling some of the pass rushing repertoire that was present during his days at Texas A&M. Then the regular season started, and it was as if everything vanished into thin air, with Leal ranking as one of the least productive pass rushers in football. As a rookie, Leal earned a 2.2% pass rush win-rate according to PFF, while totaling just three pressures in a reserve role.

Whether it be complete change in body composition after the NFL combine, the mid-season injury or just a case of a rookie taking a little bit to adjust to better competition, Leal struggled. He was quiet as a pass rusher but Leal did some nice things against the Bucs, not just holding his own against the run but generating some disruption in the backfield and near the line of scrimmage. Nearly all of his snaps came with his hand in the dirt at the snap, which is the best-case scenario towards finding a long-term home for him moving forward. With how deep the Steelers are up front, Leal’s development isn’t going to make or break this defense. But his progress matters a ton for the long-term dynamic of the front with Cam Heyward’s age looming in the background.

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