The Pittsburgh Steelers opened their preseason with a 30-17 loss to the Detriot Lions Friday at Heinz Field. While the majority of Pittsburgh's offensive starters took in the game from the sideline, many backups and fringe players made their case (or hurt their chances) for securing a roster spot:
The linebackers - Stock up
James Harrison's oldness certainly didn't prevent him from playing like a maniac on Friday. The 38-year-old veteran and former NFL Defensive Player of the Year looked to be in midseason form by strip-sacking Lions QB Matthew Stafford midway through the first quarter. Remember last year when multiple sources reported that Harrison would play "20 or 25 snaps per game?" Whoa, boy. Good times. Additionally, Ryan Shazier, a player who many consider to be a Pro Bowler waiting to happen, played well into the second quarter, while both Vince Williams and Arthur Moats both made their fair share of good plays. Although Jarvis Jones and Bud Dupree (aka, the presumed starters) didn't play on Friday, the rest of the squad proved that the Steelers will field a solid unit this season.
DL Ricardo Mathews - Stock up
Mathews produced the requisite pressure to force backup Lions QB Dan Orlovsky into throwing the ugliest interception that you will see this season, which CB Doran Grant promptly returned for a touchdown. Truthfully, Mathews played well all night, providing the Steelers with a much-needed interior pass rush. Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt both finished in the top eight in snaps played by 3-4 linemen last season, so having a viable backup should help keep them fresh.
The starting secondary - Stock down (way down)
The Steelers were kind enough to give us an extended look at what is shaping up to be their starting secondary. Again, it is the first game of the preseason, so the Steelers were never going to look like the 2013 Seahawks on Friday. With that said, however, Friday's performance by the secondary was not particularly encouraging. The Lions had over 200 passing yards against Pittsburgh in the first half and converted almost a dozen first downs. Rookie DB Sean Davis had an especially rough evening, as the 2016 second-round pick missed multiple tackles and allowed several big catches. In a similar vein...
Free agent cornerbacks - Stock up
If you happen to be a veteran cornerback in need of an NFL job, the Pittsburgh Steelers might just be the team for you!
Special teams (except for backup punter, Will Monday) - (mostly) Stable
Chris Boswell, as expected, was solid in his first action of the season, as was Jordan Berry, who put some more distance between himself and newcomer Will Monday by booming a pair of 60-yard punts. Monday had been seen as a darkhorse candidate to steal Berry's job, but it is becoming increasingly clear that Monday was signed merely to fuel Berry's fire. Keep in mind, Berry booted the longest net punt in the NFL last season (79 yards vs. Arizona).
With the notable exception of Dwayne Washington's kick return touchdown, the Steelers were decent in kick and punt coverage all night. Stuff happens in the preseason. Such is life.
Alejandro Villanueva - Stock down
After an up-and-down (but mostly up) 2015 season, Villanueva, a former Army Ranger turned defensive lineman turned offensive lineman, appeared to have a firm grasp on Pittsburgh's starting left tackle gig. However, a poor showing against the Lions, including back-to-back breakdowns on consecutive series to begin the game, could slightly diminish Villanueva's formerly cozy job security. Of course, Big Al can chalk Friday's performance up to preseason jitters, but backup T Ryan Harris is this much closer to finding his way into the starting lineup.
Guys competing for the No. 3 receiver slot - Stock down
Veteran WR Darrius Heyward-Bey made a remarkable catch for Pittsburgh's first offensive touchdown of the preseason, but he also dropped an easily catchable ball that Landry Jones (who is also trying to hold onto his backup quarterback job) delivered on a silver platter. Meanwhile, Sammie Coates, a guy who is primed for a breakout campaign in 2016, fumbled twice, and Eli Rogers, the lone slot receiver on Pittsburgh's roster, caught just one pass. Someone is going to win the No. 3 receiver job, but nobody did themselves any favors tonight.
Overall - Stable
The Steelers managed to lose pretty handily to a 7-9 team that paid $40 million to acquire the services of Cincinnati's third-best receiver. Fortunately, preseason outcomes are wholly irrelevant, so we won't waste one second over-analyzing the final score. At this point, nobody looks like a future All-Pro, and nobody appears to be in imminent danger of losing their jobs.