Among all the hoopla of Mike Wallace returning to the Steelers this week, there’s still a big game for a lot of players coming up on Thursday night. Wallace won’t be playing in it but there are still battles to be fought, and roster spots to be filled. This game is just as important as the 3rd preseason game was, only for different reasons of course.
Positions can be won and lost with a good showing this week, guys like Jonathan Dwyer and Stevenson Sylvester ultimately won roster spots by having good games in these types of circumstances in the past. This year with so many young players this one might be the most important preseason finale yet.
Here are some positions, on offense, that should peak your interest and give you a few reasons to watch the game if you were considering only catching the first quarter or so. We’ll have a separate article on the defense coming out on Thursday.
David Gilreath and Derrick Williams are both fighting it out for that 5th and likely final Wide Receiver spot on the final roster. Each has had a good game in the preseason but with the starters only playing a few series on Thursday night, these guys are hoping to get a ton of looks in the passing game. Jerrod Johnson will get the bulk of the duty after Charlie Batch comes in to relieve Ben Roethlisberger. He will be looking to these two guys and others and one dropped pass by either could be the final nail in the coffin. I really believe it’s that close between these two guys. Williams has the measurables and Gilreath plays much bigger than he is.
Mike Adams probably isn’t going to be the starter on opening weekend at Left Tackle but any experience this kid can get will serve him well. Max Starks isn’t exactly 100% yet but he is playing and getting better each week in practice. He’ll be the starter on the left side but given recent history there’s a good probability that Adams’ name will be called this season. Games like this are a great learning tool as Adams continues to work on his technique and his feet. This past weekends game was his best yet as we saw him able to move with the pass rusher and ride them out of the play, or just stuff them at the line. His ability to do more of that will give him confidence and Sean Kugler as well. He is the future blind side protector of Big Ben and sooner or later they’ll need him. Personally I’d prefer it not sooner only because this team can’t afford many more injuries to the lineman with DeCastro out for the foreseeable future.
Jerrod Johnson needs to have another game like he did against the Colts, when he went 4/5 for 65 yds. Meaning he needs that type of efficiency, but with more throws. We don’t yet know if the team will carry 3 QB’s or just 2. If they keep 3 then Johnson is going to end up on the practice squad most likely. If the Steelers keep 3 then Charlie Batch’s career might be coming to an end as many feel that Byron Leftwich would be the primary backup to Roethlisberger. That would make Jerrod Johnson #3 and likely inactive most games but still he’d be on the roster and able to practice with the team, gaining more experience. If Johnson fails to impress it might seal his fate so I expect him to have a solid game and use targets like Gilreath, Williams, and the running game to his advantage.
Chris Rainey and Baron Batch will be the primary ball carriers; Isaac Redman won’t play and Jonathan Dwyer figures to go out with the starters pretty early. Rashard Mendenhall will make the final roster, and both Redman and Dwyer have their spots locked up so that leaves. Both Batch and Rainey can make the team but the key is who will be higher up on the depth chart. The team won’t carry 5 active Running Backs on gameday so this contest is as much for a roster spot as it is who will see the bulk of the work this season in the 3rd down role. Rainey is also in the running for the primary kickoff and punt return job.
Jeremy Kapinos and Drew Butler have been in a somewhat contest for the Steelers Punter job. Kapinos hasn’t practiced since the start of training camp, and Drew Butler has been inconsistent in preseason so far.
Will Johnson is the only FB on the roster right now, and while he’s likely to make the final roster in that role he’s had some misses in preseason, this game like the rest, will be good experience for the regular season.
Heath Miller is the starting Tight End, Leonard Pope figures to be the primary backup at this point. The Steelers can carry just those two for the first four weeks while Weslye Saunders serves his suspension.
The starting offensive line is pretty much set at this point, barring injury which the team cannot afford), Max Starks, Willie Colon, Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster, and Marcus Gilbert. Beyond that you have Doug Legursky, & Trai Essex who’s spots are secure. After that group though there’s a significant drop off and roles that need to be filled. Chris Scott, John Malecki, and Kelvin Beachum need to have big games.