Steelers : Players to look out for in preseason


One down and four to go.

The first pre-season game of the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers season is over.   Few questions were truly answered due to a litany of key players who never took the field.  It’s next to impossible to gauge  improvements at the positions of linebacker, cornerback, and safety when Jarvis Jones, James Harrison, Cortez Allen, Mike Mitchell and Shamarko Thomas viewed the entire game from the sidelines.

What we can do, however, is take bits and pieces of what we saw on Sunday night and apply it to the way we analyze the four upcoming preseason matchups.  Here are 6 pivotal players, at key positions, worth watching over the next games.

On the offensive side of the ball, Dri Archer displayed some of the athleticism and speed the front office had hoped for when he was drafted.   Last year, however, he seemed undisciplined and relied too much on his speed instead of waiting for plays to develop.

Sunday he seemed more comfortable and waited for the holes to open on the front line before he turned on the after burners.   If he has truly translated his game to a cerebral level, we should see good production in the remaining games .  If we see him dancing in the backfield or riding up prematurely on an offensive lineman, then you can be sure he is back to using his feet and not his head.

Third round draft pick, Sammie Coates seemed relatively impressive.  If he keeps trending upwards, the Steelers will add to an already talented receiving corps.  That being said,  we need to consider the possibility  that a good part of his production was due to the poor play of Vikings rookie cornerback Trae Waynes.

Coates has obvious skills and a great attitude but the next few weeks will tell us  whether he is that good, or if Waynes was that bad.

Rookie tight end Jesse James will be looking for redemption in the Steelers next contest.  The sixth round pick has fantastic height and has flashed legitimate NFL talent at times.  His Sunday night miscues could leave him on the outside looking end if he doesn’t have the intestinal fortitude to rebound with solid and consistent play.

James strength may never be in his athleticism, so he has four weeks to show that his hands are reliable when he is open.   At 6’7, you can bet Coach Haley is ready to use him in the redzone but  as a third string tight end, he must prove that he is a willing and capable blocker.  This is where James potentially earns a roster spot.

On defense, Stephon Tuitt, had moments in which he went full beast mode on offensive lineman.  At one point in the first preseason game, the second year defensive lineman was totally dominating his opponents; a single lineman on the first play and two lineman on the very next snap.

I had previously predicted that Tuitt and Heyward would rack up 10 sacks combined.  I am going to change that prediction to a monstrous 15 sacks.   The second year player’s strength, technique, and understanding of the defense, makes him worthy of extra attention this year.

As the preseason progresses and Tuitt is regularly facing NFL starters on the offensive line, we will see how special he may be.  Keep in mind as you watch him, that a quarterback hurry is as good as a sack.

For all Ryan Shazier‘s solid play on Sunday night, he actually started out a little shaky.  It was obvious that he needed to get used to playing at NFL game speed.  After several examples of poor tackling and taking a few wrong steps, he shook off the rust and became a human missile in run support.

Timmons looks to be the inside linebacker who will drop back in cover 2, but watch to see if Coach Butler utilizes Shazier or Timmons in some version of a  “cover-2 man” scheme.  Shazier’s rookie season was hindered by injury but there is no denying his potential.  Stay tuned to see if his stock continues to rise.

Lastly, follow the progression of our newest cornerback, Brandon Boykin.  The cover-2 actually plays to his strengths in that he rarely has to turn his back to the quarterback and can jump routes with his elite instincts.   Boykin looked incredibly comfortable against the Vikings.   He has the ability to play in almost any scheme.

Take the next few games to watch Boykin as they move him around in the defensive backfield.  I think he eventually lands a starting job on the outside and may become the best corner on this team.  It will be an interesting four weeks as Boykin gets a better understanding of the playbook and starts to gel with his teammates.   The real test will come when he has a game in which he has to cover a tall, strong receiver.

The next four weeks will be a chance for first and second year players to prove their worth.  Forget that preseason games don’t count.  Forget that many of the roster spots are already filled.  Focus on key players and key positions and you will enter the regular season with a better understanding of where this team stands.

Next: Steelers Owned Canton

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