We learned a lot about the 2017 Pittsburgh Steelers in their first preseason exhibition contest last Friday night against the New York Giants. There's a lot of optimism surrounding the overall depth of this team. We got a chance to see a lot of players that we didn't know too well, and some players will be seeing their first action on Sunday.
Although everybody is important, here are five that I want to closely watch against Atlanta.
No. 30 RB James Conner
With Le'Veon Bell continuing to exile himself for an unspecified amount of time, the feel good story of the offseason is currently the top running back available to the Steelers. With Conner set to debut on Sunday, the Pitt Panther wants to show off his pass-grabbers, as well as his running ability. Maybe a great day by No. 30 could coax No. 26 into rethinking his return date.
No. 14 WR Sammie Coates
My feeling is that the returning Coates is going to have to play for his football life in Pittsburgh the next three weeks. Broken fingers, and a hand laceration, hastened his disappearance last year, and contributed to his five drops on the 49 balls that came his way. Lev Bell also had five balls that he didn't pull in, but he was targeted nearly double the times (94) than was Coates. With a crowded group of receivers, that includes tall receivers Justin Hunter, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Martavis Bryant...Coates needs to channel his brilliance of the first five games of 2016 and shine with the intensity of a thousand suns again.
No. 5 QB Joshua Dobbs
Reviews were mixed on Dobbs' debut last Friday against New York. He settled down after throwing two picks early to have a stat line of 8/15, 100 yards, a TD and two interceptions. I liked Dobbs' rebound and should note he had a TD pass called back in the third. I also noticed his arm being hit on one of his picks thrown. Nonetheless, Dobbs is going to make the team. However, I'd like to continue to watch his progress and see him show more this week against Atlanta.
No. 11 WR Justin Hunter
Hunter is said to be having a solid camp. But the WR stable is very crowded. Ben Roethlisberger seems to be comfortable with Hunter. A great showing from the free agent acquisition could cement his status. I want to see how he can stretch the defense and make this the best WR unit in the league.
No. 69 OT Brian Mihalik
The big OT is on the bubble. He could crack the roster or end up on the practice squad. His showing against the Giants was very uneven. This is a crucial week for Mihalik.
Keep an eye out for these guys, as well as the rest of the roster. BTSC will hit on defense tomorrow.