A legitimate argument can be made for preseason snaps actually being more important individually than regular season snaps on the behalf of the player. Just ask David Gilreath of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Gilreath seems to have lost some clout with the team this week after muffing a punt against the New York Giants in Week 1 of the preseason. He fell a spot on the receiving depth chart behind rookie Justin Brown, and fell completely off the punt returner's list with another rookie Reggie Dunn taking his place.
Training camp in Latrobe will break for the season on Saturday. With a limited number of practices and games left to play, these seven players (in no particular order) need to make the most of every opportunity which knocks in Week 2 against the Washington Redskins.
1. Nicholas Williams - Defensive End
Williams was a seventh round draft pick in 2013. He was immediately tabbed as a defensive end project most likely destined for the practice squad considering he didn't start playing football until his senior year of high school and didn't land a starting job in college until his junior year. Williams suffered a knee injury in the early stages of camp and only just returned to practice on Monday. Fellow rookie Brian Arnfelt had a strong performance in Williams absence, creating a real battle for possibly just one practice squad spot. Williams will need to make up for missed practice time just like...
2. Terry Hawthorne - Cornerback
Hawthorne, a fifth-round 2013 NFL draft selection, was viewed as a diamond in the rough entering the league by secondary coach Carnell Lake. Unfortunately, Hawthorne needed surgery this off-season to remove bone chips from his knee, forcing him to miss most of the team's off-season work until returning to practice on Monday with N. Williams. Josh Victorian and Isaiah Green have been jockeying for depth chart positions while posting positive game film footage. Hawthorne should see action on Monday night barring any setbacks. He needs to make a case for being more than just a practice squad player, as does ...
3. Joe Long - Left Tackle
Long, the undrafted brother of St. Louis Rams left tackle Jake Long, has found himself in a dead heat with D'Anthony Batiste on the offensive depth chart. The Steelers have already moved tackle Guy Whimper to guard for the Redskins game making more time for both competitors. With favored ninth offensive lineman Justin Cheadle now out with a significant hamstring injury, the team will be watching this battle closely. The want to insure their depth at the outside positions with Kelvin Beachum the only reserve tackle looking like a lock for the final roster. Long needs to stand out above his veteran counterpart, just like...
4. Alameda Ta'amu - Nose Tackle
Ta'amu played his best snaps as a member of the Steelers in the first preseason game against the Giants. He is still listed with the third team behind Hebron Fangupo and starter Steve McLendon. Some view his placement as a message to a player who had a terrible rookie season both on and off the field. He spent time with Cameron Heyward this off-season training and learning how to be a professional. Ta'amu arrived at camp with a sore hammy of his own, but several pounds lighter, fleeter of foot and in better overall physical condition while maintaining his strength. If he can perfect the foreign techniques which differ from what he excelled at in the past, then he just might earn an active roster spot. Same goes for...
5. Jonathan Dwyer - Running Back
Dwyer ended the 2012 season as the team's leading rusher, recording two 100+ yard performances against the Redskins and the Cincinnati Bengals. However, his limited success came running behind the team's traditional power running scheme. In 2013 with the outside zone philosophy making its debut, Dwyer has quickly fallen to the back of the pack due to a slow transition. Dwyer, like Ta'amu, shed significant weight and trained hard to become 'elite', but he has to prove it with a better performance against the Redskins than his six carry, 15 yard performance against the Giants; or this veteran could find himself unemployed by the start of the season, as could...
6. Stevenson Sylvester - Inside Linebacker
Sylvester was lucky his ankle injury wasn't worse after having it rolled by Markus Wheaton during punt coverage, but he was forced to miss the rest of the game. As he sat out the rest of the Giants game, the rest of the inside linebackers stood out. Once deemed a necessary piece because of his position flexibility, Sylvester is finding a bubble swelling beneath career in Pittsburgh. Sylvester needs to remind the team why they re-signed him this off-season, if he wants the team to forgive him for a little bit of bad luck on one special teams play. Sound familiar?
7. David Gilreath - Wide Receiver
The Steelers have a deep chart full of young, promising but untested receivers. Gilreath, who was a standout during the preseason in 2012 and saw game time during the regular season, was staying above them based on his experience and ability to contribute to special teams. One muffed punt against the Giants later, and Gilreath has found himself sliding off his own bubble. If Gilreath wants to force the team's rookie class to spend the year on the practice squad, he needs to remind onlookers of his 2012 version and why the team was so high on him in the first place, although he may not see anymore special teams opportunities.
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