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Pittsburgh Steelers: 3 Thumbs-Up, 3 Thumbs-Down Performances in 2015 Preseason Opener

The Pittsburgh Steelers lost to the Minnesota Vikings 14-3 Sunday night in the NFL Hall of Fame Game.

Ultimately, no one will remember the score of the 2015 preseason opener. The game is meaningless in the standings, but for players who are fighting for a roster spot, the game meant everything.

Here are three Steelers players who helped themselves and three who didn’t on Sunday night in Canton, Ohio.

THUMBS UP: Ryan Shazier

Not that Ryan Shazier is in danger of being cut, but the Steelers’ 2014 first-round draft pick still has plenty to prove after an injury-riddled rookie season.

The inside linebacker led the Steelers with five total tackles, including four solo tackles. He showed his speed in snuffing out a reverse to Mike Wallace in the first quarter. The former Steeler lost a yard on the play.

Shazier also was involved in stopping the Vikings on fourth-and-1 to end their first possession. He put a nice hit on Matt Asiata after the Vikings’ running back caught a pass for five yards. The Vikings eventually missed a field goal on that series.

Playing into the second quarter, Shazier showed signs that he might not be a bust after all.

THUMBS DOWN: Landry Jones

All eyes were on Landry Jones Sunday night. The plan was for him to play the whole game. He had a chance to show that he’s made strides.

Once again, Jones was a preseason flop.

Despite being on an NFL roster for two years, Jones led the Steelers to just three points against a bunch of second-, third- and fourth-stringers.

Jones completed seven of his first nine passes, but only nine of his last 23. He completed just one of six passes in the red zone. It didn’t help that rookie tight end Jesse James dropped a likely touchdown pass at the 1-yard line. But Jones should have thrown to a wide-open C.J. Goodwin in the end zone on the play.

Bruce Gradkowski’s arm better heal quickly. He’s Ben Roethlisberger’s only serviceable backup.

THUMBS UP: Dri Archer

Like Ryan Shazier, Archer was unimpressive as a rookie in 2014. But he showed signs of life Sunday with a team-high 24 rushing yards on four carries. He also led the Steelers with six receptions for 33 yards.

Archer ran for 15 yards on 3rd-and-14 in the first quarter and caught a 14-yard pass on 3rd-and-10 in the second quarter.

The 5’8″, 173-pounder averaged 17.9 yards on nine kickoff returns last season before losing that job. On Sunday, he made himself a candidate to earn it back by returning a kickoff for 34 yards.

THUMBS DOWN: Jesse James

The Steelers were haunted Sunday night by their fifth-round curse. Their latest fifth-round draft pick, rookie tight end Jesse James, dropped what could have been a touchdown pass at the Vikings’ 1-yard line late in the first half and fumbled the ball away at the Minnesota 24 in the third quarter.

Perhaps the Steelers should revive the tradition of making a fumble-prone rookie carry the ball everywhere he goes on the St. Vincent College campus, with a monetary reward going to anyone who can take it away from him.

Holding onto the ball wasn’t James’ only problem. He was flagged for holding and false start penalties.

The Steelers shouldn’t plan Heath Miller’s retirement party just yet.

THUMBS UP: Alejandro Villanueva

Does anyone really feel comfortable with Mike Adams as Kelvin Beachum’s backup at left tackle?

Former Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva spent last year on the Steelers’ practice squad. On Sunday night he looked like someone who wants to make the 53-man roster. The 26-year-old put his 6’9″ height and 277 pounds to good use. He often looked like a wall protecting Landry Jones’ blind side.

If Villanueva keeps up the good work he could provide the Steelers with some much-needed depth at tackle.

THUMBS DOWN: Cam Thomas

A free-agent bust last season, Cam Thomas is no lock to make the team this year. The 330-pound defensive tackle appeared slow and easy to block against the Vikings.

The sixth-year veteran was neutralized by a rookie sixth-round draft pick, offensive lineman Tyrus Thompson, when Joe Banyard gave the Vikings a 14-3 lead with a 1-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.

According to Pro Football Talk, new Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler said he wants his defensive linemen to be more active than they traditionally have been in the Steelers’ defensive scheme.

That doesn’t bode well for Thomas if he keeps playing the way he did Sunday.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets

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