By: Zach Metkler, GZ Sports Report Writer
After two long weeks, the Steelers have finally concluded their training camp for the 2016 season. After a shaky showing against the Lions in week 1, the Steelers will face their in-state rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles.
Don’t expect too much to be seen from this game considering that the two teams will face off again in week 3 of the regular season in Philadelphia.
Key Steelers Stars Will Sit – Again
In what should be a surprise to no one, Mike Tomlin announced that key players like Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, and DeAngelo Williams will all sit out of Thursday’s game, just like last week. As I previously mentioned, injuries have become all too normal for NFL team’s during the preseason and there is no worse way to derail a season than to have a star get a major injury during an otherwise irrelevant football game. This will also give the Steelers the chance to see bubble players and promising young players the chance to hit someone else and prove why they belong in the NFL.
One player that will potentially be back onto the game field for the first time in over a year is center Maurkice Pouncey. Mike Tomlin has not ruled out Pouncey’s availability for the game and will be a more than likely be a game-time decision.
Which Sammie Coates Will We See This Week?
With Antonio Brown sitting out of the first two games, 2nd-year receiver Sammie Coates has had the chance to show what he brings to the table. Through the first part of training camp, Coates has been one of the biggest names circulating in reports about his potential to be another receiver in the line of great Steelers steals. However, Coates put on a rather disappointing performance against the Lions last week, fumbling the ball twice and having some drops on relatively catchable passes. Which Sammie Coates will we see this week against the Lions? The receiver who showed sharp route running, awareness, and speed during training camp? Or will it be the receiver who was doing his best Limas Sweed impression against the Lions?
*Collective cringe from Steeler Nation*
Players to Watch
-DT Javon Hargrave was basically snubbed last week, appearing in only 15 snaps throughout the game. He made the use of those snaps, though, being a constant force and showing the disruptive skills that led to the Steelers selecting him in the 3rd-round this year. With the recent release of DT Roy Philon, more reps should be available for the stout tackle.
-S Shamarko Thomas is a player that that has surprised me so far during the preseason. While his name hasn’t been big in reports, Thomas has been showing something that we haven’t seen from him through the first 3 years of his career: defensive awareness. Against the Lions, he was very strong against the run and was surprisingly effective in coverage, routinely making plays on the ball. His continued progression will be something to monitor as the preseason continues.
-WR Eli Rogers made the most of his snaps last week as a slot receiver for the Steelers, showing off his quickness and shiftiness that makes him a tantalizing prospect for the Steelers. With the current struggles of Sammie Coates and Antonio Brown sitting out most of the preseason, Rogers has all the room in the world to shine and prove his worth. Expect him to get plenty of attention this week on offense.
-OT Alejandro Villanueva is pegged to defend Ben Roethlisberger’s blindside this season. Unfortunately, he had a very poor performance against the Lions, routinely getting beat by quick moves inside and out. Fortunately for Villanueva, his main competition, Ryan Harris, performed even worse last week. While Villanueva’s job is likely secure at this point, he is currently fighting for more than just a job this year: he is trying to be a long-term option for the Steelers. If he doesn’t start picking it up soon, it might be a short-lived experiences as a starting left tackle.
-S Sean Davis got his feet wet last week as the Steelers starting nickel cornerback and had a typical rookie performance. He showed potential in coverage and displayed the great physicality that was a driving factor in the Steelers selecting him. Reps are the best thing for Davis right now and I fully expect him to continue to progress as a player and receive time at both safety and cornerback. The Steelers need him to be a force this season.
-CB Artie Burns has missed most of the past two weeks of training camp practices with a thigh injury which has really prevented his development as a player. It is unclear how much time (if any) Burns will see this week against the Eagles but if he gets the go-ahead to play, keep an eye on the 1st-round draft pick’s play against the Eagles average receivers.
-TE Jesse James might be one of the biggest winners of the preseason due to the absence of free agent signing Ladarius Green. James has progressed nicely since his rookie season and demonstrated improved run-blocking skills that he lacked last season. Look for James to pick up where he left off last week against the Lions and potentially get more involved in the pass game as he tries to hold off the athletic Xavier Grimble for the #1 spot.
-QB’s Landry Jones and Dustin Vaughan will get ample time in the game with the injury of veteran Bruce Gradkowski. The Steelers are trying to figure out what they have with both of the young quarterbacks and will be focusing on Landry Jones as he is now practically the uncontested #2 player to Roethlisberger. He put on a decent performance last week and will try to build off of that performance against the Eagles.
Just as with training camp, the only big injury news for the Steelers is Senquez Golson, who had surgery to repair a lisfranc injury he suffered earlier in camp. Beyond Golson, Ladarius Green will also not play, as his status is still up in the air for unknown causes. As previously mentioned, multiple players will be healthy scratches to preserve their health for the season. Bruce Gradkowski will also not play after tearing his hamstring last week against the Lions. Anthony Chickillo, Jerald Hawkins, and Maurkice Pouncey are all listed as questionable due to minor injuries from last week (or in Pouncey’s case, just a decision to keep him healthy). Other than that, it will be business as usual for the Steelers.