Things to watch for during the Steelers preseason on offense. This is an important time for this group, they finally get to start putting into action what Todd Haley has been installing this offseason and in camp. As Mike Tomlin said in a recent press briefing after camp, “This isn’t a new offense to us, it’s just new to you guys. We’ve been working on this for months”. While that may be true the growing pains of installing a new offense are often not seen until game day in crunch time situations. I know I’m anxious to see what this offense looks like on the field against other competition. Of course, you won’t see anything exotic in the preseason but expect a heavy dose of the run game and working on the timing of the short to intermediate passing game. You can’t to the high profile stuff without getting the basics down to a science first.
Preseason game 1 for the starters: As Tomlin said they’ll go for 1-2 series but that could change based on injuries or circumstances. Either way you won’t see them much on Thursday. Game 2 they’ll play about a quarter. Game 3 is when you’ll see them go the entire first half, sometimes a series into the 3rd quarter as well. Game 4 they won’t play more than a few series.
David DeCastro and Mike Adams: Both of these guys will start per Tomlin against the Eagles and will get significant reps throughout the rest of the preseason. Adams at LT and DeCastro at RG. There’s no substitute for real game situations. While Adams is having a pretty solid camp, watch to see how he handles the bull rush of the defender. Is he able to handle the inside move, and can he shuffle quickly enough when pass rushers try to set the edge and get around him on the outside. According to our friend Craig Wolfley, that’s one area that Adams need to continue to work on.
For DeCastro, we know he’s got natural talent but he’s had his share of struggles so far in camp. Sean Kugler said recently though that DeCastro has improved over the last week, which is good news. Keep your eye on him and watch to see how handles the inside or outside move of the defensive lineman? Watch his head and stance when he lines up; that will tell you how he’ll be able to react to the pass rush. If he is stiff he’ll have a tough time in reaction. Does he struggle more with power or the mental part of the game?
The run game is about knowing the play, finding your man and moving him out of the way. This is where he should shine especially while he’s learning.
Other lineman: The starting lineman will get more work than Ben Roethlisberger does but they’ll eventually give way to the backups as well. Willie Colon was ruled out of the first game against the Eagles with his ankle injury. Ramon Foster will slide over to LG while DeCastro plays on the right side. When Colon returns then Foster will continue to battle it out with DeCastro for that RG spot. Also watch Kelvin Beachum, this 7th rounder is raw but having a pretty nice camp so far. Watch how he plays with leverage and if he’s able to react and keep his feet under him in pass blocking.
Isaac Redman will see some work but he’ll give way to the backups regularly. This is our first chance to see how Chris Rainey and Baron Batch do in game situations. Both are fighting for roster spots and looking to impress the coaches. Batch is the better blocker in blitz pickup but Rainey will use his cut blocks to try and stop his man. Both will be big assets in the short passing game, and both possess good ball skills and quickness..
Jonathan Dwyer will get significant work as will John Clay. These two will be fighting it out for that primary backup spot behind Redman. Each one is a power back and both are having a good camp so the run game should be fun to watch. Keep an eye on how all of the backs hit the hole after taking the handoff. Are they seeing the blocking schemes, hitting the gap with authority or are they indecisive?
At fullback, the duo of Johnson & Johnson should see regular duty. Both David and Will are fighting for what is likely one FB spot on the roster so this should be fun to see. Just having a lead blocker back in Pittsburgh is enough to get me excited. Watch to see how they hold their blocks after the point of attack. Are they able to stay on their man, are they getting the correct man?
Heath Miller won’t last long in this game but we’ll see Wesley Saunders, Jamie McCoy and free agent Leonard Pope a lot. Saunders is having a very good camp and looking the best out of all the backup TE’s so far. Even with his suspension looming in the regular season, these preseason games will help his cause to secure a roster spot regardless. Leonard isn’t going to break any speed records but his blocking will be key to his chances at making the team. He’s a solid receiver too, more of a possession type rather than someone who can break tackles and gain an extra 20 yds like Heath can. McCoy is a sleeper so watch him as well.
Don’t forget, Tomlin said in his presser yesterday that the coaches have not completely moved David Johnson to TE exclusively. We’ll see him in both roles during preseason; which will help ultimatley determine his fate during the final roster cuts.
How do the TE’s handle their blocking; are they able to sustain for the duration of the play? Are they able to get off the line quickly in pass routes?
Jerrod Johnson: Given the fragile nature of both Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich, coupled with the fact that the team already knows what they are about, expect Johnson will see a lot of work. Even with Ben’s ankle, regardless of severity, he’ll give way to the reserves pretty quickly. Then you’ll see an ongoing rotation of Batch, Leftwich, and Johnson each getting to play with some starters. This is the time for Johnson to show he’s capable of knocking off Leftwich because the 3rd QB spot isn’t set in stone.
We know what we have in Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, and Jerricho Cotchery but beyond that it’s a total crap shoot. The starters will get some reps with the first and second teams but expect to see a lot of Jimmy Young, Derrick Williams, David Gilreath, Marquis Maze, Paul Cox, and Tyler Beiler throughout the preseason. These guys are going to make their case for the Steelers to not go out and sign a veteran to replace Mike Wallace (if his holdout continues). Maze and Beiler especially have been having a good camp and Gilreath has made some nice catches as well. Watch to see how they get off man coverage, how they handle finding the spot in the zone. Are they able to catch the ball in traffic and hold on, or do they cough it over when hit? How are their routes, do they come back to the ball and adjust?
Like we said in the article on the offense, the main thing is to enjoy the games and enjoy Steelers football back in our lives again every week. If you’re into watching players and matchups, then perhaps this will be of some assistance.