Whenever someone mentions the potential of the 2016 Pittsburgh Steelers, a season prediction is always followed by the words: "if they remain healthy."
After years of what feels like a curse when it comes to the health of major contributors, combined with the cancellation of the Hall of Fame game, I started thinking: should some Steelers sit out these meaningless games?
One good reason for players to sit out the preseason is to avoid injury. The Steelers were snake-bitten in week 2 of the 2015 preseason, when Maurkice Pouncey was lost for the year. In the same game, Pittsburgh's opponent, the Green Bay Packers, also lost their All-Pro wide receiver, Jordy Nelson, for the year.
Another good reason to sit stars, beyond preserving their availability for the regular season, is to evaluate many of the young players who need as much field time as possible, both for experience, and for an opportunity to impress the coaching staff, with hopes of making the final roster.
Regardless, here's a list of players I feel the Steelers should consider sitting out the entire preseason:
The perennial Pro Bowler has been hit with freak accidents more often than anyone else on the roster. With as many as 3 serious injuries this decade (and two occurring at or before the start of the season) Pouncey's availability is paramount to a team looking to contend for a Super Bowl. The former All-Pro center missed the entire 2015 season, and was replaced by Cody Wallace, who Pro Football Focus ranked in their bottom 5 at the position.
Pouncey's rating when he was on the field in 2014?
If anyone's been banged up recently, it's been Ben.
Now, quarterbacks very rarely play in the preseason to begin with, but considering Ben's health during the regular season, sitting the future Hall of Famer would behoove backups Bruce Gradkowski and Landry Jones. Gradkowski missed all of the 2015 season with a shoulder injury, and hasn't thrown a pass in a game since the Steelers playoff game with the Ravens two seasons ago.
Jones on the other hand, benefitted the most from having 5 exhibition games to play in last preseason. In his final year of his contract, Jones' development is paramount in the team's future plans. If Jones fails to progress, the Steelers maybe looking at replacing both backups after this season.
Le'Veon Bell AND DeAngelo Williams
There's no reason for RB1 and RB1a to be on the field… whatsoever.
Williams, as a veteran, has earned the right to play limited time in the preseason. His health is important pending the results of Le'Veon Bell's suspension; and Le'Veon Bell's health in general is the reason Williams was signed last season.
Williams himself has to remain healthy in order to be there for when Bell is not.
Bell's situation is well-documented: he may miss time due to suspension, and he's been removed from playing twice, due to low hits to his legs, i.e. knee injuries. While Bell came back with a vengeance last year, and appears to be on track with his rehab this season, we can never be too sure how these injuries affect the player long-term.
Therefore, it would be prudent to get more carries to Fitzgerald Toussaint (who mostly came through in a big way in the postseason) and any other young buck looking to make the team.
This really goes without saying: do we need Antonio Brown out there in exhibition games?
It would be wiser to evaluate the plethora of younger receivers in these games, as well as try out alternate punt returners, should AB be removed from those duties, either by a coaching decision, or a dirty hit.
I know what you're thinking: those are all offensive players. What about the defense?
With so many young players on the defense, I can't see sitting anyone in the preseason. Even the established stars such as Cameron Heyward, Mike Mitchell and Lawrence Timmons may see some time in these games. However, if I had to choose at least one player to sit out, it would be Shazier.
The former Ohio State product has been limited due to various injuries in his first two seasons, and could be more valuable than any other player on this side of ball, having nearly single-handedly changed Pittsburgh's fortunes against the Bengals. That's enough to persuade me that playing number 50 in the preseason is a risk I wouldn't want to take.