5 things to watch for in Steelers’ 2nd preseason game
The first preseason game is cathartic for fans who haven’t seen their team play for six to eight months. The third game typically features all the starters (albeit for an abbreviated period of time). The fourth game? Well, for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the finale traditionally at least features that “rivalry game” with the Carolina Panthers.
So where does that leave preseason game No. 2? This season, it doesn’t even align as the annual Heinz Field opener, which is next week. Sometimes, the second game can be bereft of storylines.
Steelers junkies who’ve kept a keen eye on training camp, though, recognize there’s plenty to watch for during Thursday’s 8 p.m. game at the Green Bay Packers.
Here are five of the most notable things:
1. The Josh and Mason Show
Coach Mike Tomlin said youngsters Josh Dobbs and Mason Rudolph will get all the snaps at quarterback and Ben Roethlisberger and Landry Jones will have the night off. While this shows Jones is assured the top backup job, it at least adds intrigue in getting extended looks at a pair of big-time college QBs who were Steelers’ mid-round picks the past two drafts.
Dobbs’ play in practice is notably improved from last season, but it still lags behind that of Jones, and because of the numbers game, it probably isn’t enough (barring injury) to earn Dobbs a 53-man roster spot this season. But as the Tennessee alum’s laser of a touchdown pass to Damoun Patterson in last week’s game showed, Dobbs has the potential to raise eyebrows in a game setting.
More attention, though, will be on Rudolph, who has shown obvious talent but also exhibits growing pains. One area in which the former Oklahoma State star has been as good as advertised? Deep balls. He will show no apprehension about taking shots down the field.
2. Will they keep splashing?
In the preseason-opening victory last Thursday in Philadelphia, the Steelers defense produced two interceptions and a strip-sack among three forced fumbles plus another sack. The offense had three passing plays of at least 29 yards, two of which went for touchdowns.
3. Add some color?
The Steelers, as is expected this time of year, went vanilla with their defense against Philadelphia. Conventional wisdom suggests that won’t change throughout the preseason. But the Steelers aren’t having a typical training camp in regards to their defensive schemes. They’re tinkering with looks and personnel packages while breaking in four new safeties and a new secondary coach.
Will the Steelers defensive staff work on some of the exotic looks they have shown at Saint Vincent?
4. Watch the ‘teams’
Let’s face it: A big part of what preseason is for is selecting the bottom portion of a team’s 53-man roster and the practice squad. The last few spots often come down to special teams ability.
The Steelers like Matthew Thomas’ potential at inside linebacker. But the undrafted rookie won’t make the team unless he can be trusted on kickoffs and punts. Is Patterson is worth keeping around? Maybe, but it won’t happen if he doesn’t show he can be a good “gunner” in kick/punt coverage.
5. Green-and-yellow attractions
Sure, Roethlisberger won’t be playing, but that doesn’t mean fans won’t get to see a future Hall of Fame, Super Bowl-winning quarterback. Aaron Rodgers is expected to make his preseason debut.
This only is the Steelers’ third appearance at Lambeau Field (regular reason, postseason or preseason) since 1996.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at [email protected] or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.