Aside from the off-field questions surrounding James Harrison, Le'Veon Bell and Ladarius Green, there are more immediate questions which need answered in Thursday's game.
Was Sammie Coates performance a fluke?
Probably the most talked about performance coming out of the Lions game, fans want to know if Sammie Coates' poor showing (drops, fumbles) is a "one and done" situation, or a major concern.
Considering Coates has little tape to rely upon, and was called upon late in the second quarter of the Lions game, I'd suggest the Steelers probably get him active earlier, with some short passes, and try to make him feel comfortable in the passing game. He's at Heinz Field, in front of a home crowd, once again, which should help his nerves; knowing the focus of the passing game was going to be on him during the last game, in front of the same crowd which heard rave reviews of his training camp performances, might've gotten to his head.
I'm a firm believer in learning by failing: Coates should turn it around going forward, and that experience was the best place, and time, to have it happen. He can now prepare to not make the same mistakes, and put the past behind him.
What do the Steelers do about their secondary?
Senquez Golson has a Lisfranc injury. Ross Ventrone was reportedly placed on IR, but instead had an injury settlement. Artie Burns has been limited in practice.
The Steelers secondary is dropping like flies.
However, one bright spot came out of last Friday's game, with Doran Grant coming out of nowhere with a strong performance at cornerback, including a spectacular pick six which ignited the Steelers early in the game.
Then Grant was moved to safety during practice this week.
I don't look into that too much, as Grant has been moved around often, and the Steelers value versatility, having used Robert Golden and Sean Davis in multiple roles such as nickel corner, in addition to safety.
Apparently this was a planned move, likely stemming out of Ventrone's injury and the stalled development of Shamarko Thomas. I believe the Steelers coaching staff is trying to evaluate their depth at safety, and I wouldn't be all that surprised to see Grant share some snaps at the position Thursday.
If the team feels that they need more help, they could bring back safety Will Allen, last year's starting safety opposite Mike Mitchell, as soon as next week. The move is similar to when the Steelers brought James Harrison and Brett Keisel back, due to a lack of depth at those positions. Allen's return shouldn't affect Grant's spot on the roster; there are some who feel we should move forward with younger talent, but Allen would be a necessary fill-in who could also play corner, if required.
Testing Grant at safety will ultimately determine if Allen's services would be needed, or if Grant can play a backup role at corner and safety.
Does Jordan Berry win the punting job Thursday?
With 15 names needing to be scratched from the first round of upcoming roster cuts, the clock is ticking on Will Monday to show us anything that would make us think he should remain on the squad.
Berry boomed 3 punts in Friday's game, opening some eyes as he flipped the field in the Steelers favor (despite the defense not taking advantage of lengthy kicks.)
With several promising receivers and linebackers on the 90-man list already, and needing to find quality secondary players, I'm of the opinion that Pittsburgh cannot afford to keep an extra punter after the cut to 75.
The name is the question: after having not played all of 2015, Mike Tomlin has stated that Pouncey will indeed play in Thursday's game. Several questions surround the former All-Pro center:
- Is he the same player as he was prior?
- How many snaps do you want him to play?
- Can he leave the game healthy?
Let's hope the answers are "yes," "not many," and "YES!"
Does Travis Feeney get enough time to make a splash?
After battling injuries and missing out on playing in the first game, sixth round pick Travis Feeney is expected to play Thursday. The former Washington standout had been questioned since his selection in the Draft, with many wondering how he would fit into the Steelers system.
The extremely athletic player figures to earn his keep by playing special teams, but should also see significant time playing in the second half. Travis' clock may also be ticking, however, a few solid plays, without any major mistakes, should keep his name on the roster going forward.
Personally, I'm excited to see what he brings to the team in both capacities, particularly a special teams unit which gave up a touchdown to the Lions.
How much does Dustin Vaughan play?
Landry Jones started against the Lions, assuming a role as Ben Roethlisberger's backup if he could win the competition against Ben's previous alternate, Bruce Gradkwoski.
That battle looks all but won, as Gradkowski is sidelined with a "sizeable hamstring tear." Placing Gradkowski on Injured Reserve would cause the QB to miss his second straight season, and possibly send the team searching for af free agent. The Steelers have not made a major move or announcement since Gradkowski's injury, which means, like their secondary, they are monitoring Bruce's health before making an official decision on how to proceed.
Part of this process moving forward will be first-year Steelers quarterback Dustin Vaughan, who went from a "camp arm" signed for drills in rookie mini-camp and offseason workouts, to entering the Lions game when Gradkowski got hurt.
Mike Tomlin has said he will see what Dustin is capable of, it's just a matter of how many reps the former West Texas A&M quarterback will receive in Thursday's game. Vaughan wasn't a complete disaster against the Lions, going 6-of-11 for 50 yards. Having been around the league in various camps over the last 3 seasons, he's also a bit more seasoned than a true, raw, rookie signal caller.
I'd almost expect the Steelers to sit Landry at halftime again, if not earlier, to protect their QB depth chart. Ben Roethlisberger will not see action in this game, so it's a question of how many reps Landry Jones needs with some of the first and second team players, before the coaches feel comfortable in finding him a spot on the sideline for the rest of the evening.
The rest of the night should belong to Vaughan: if he excels, he may end up holding the clipboard in the regular season, especially if Gradowski's injury isn't as serious as reported. Otherwise, the end of Bruce's season, combined with a poor performance by Vaughan, could open the door for a QB signing.
Like the speculation of bringing back Will Allen, the Steelers could bring back another former quarterback, to help place veteran depth behind Big Ben and Jones.