It is finally time. Football is back in Steelers Nation and all is well. After a tumultuous wait for our beloved Steelers to be back, they return tonight as they face their in-state rivals. the Philadelphia Eagles. The Steelers are coming off one of the most disappointing losses in recent memory when they lost to Blake Bortles and the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2017 AFC Playoffs.
Now it is time to see some of the progress and tools which will be at the Steelers’ disposal this season. While only one preseason game, the Steelers will still need to show they have made progress to possibly winning a championship. Given the state of Le’Veon Bell’s contract, this could be possibly be the final year of their championship window, but it seems tonight we will be looking more so into the future, especially with Mason Rudolph expecting to get significant snaps.
Here are my three things to look for in tonight’s preseason action:
Mason Rudolph’s and Joshua Dobbs’ Progress
This is going to be an exciting time for the Steelers as we watch potentially the next franchise Quarterback of the Steelers take the field for the first time.
By all accounts. Rudolph has impressed at camp and Kevin Colbert said he was much further along than they actually thought. His progressions and reads have been better by the sound of it and if he shows growth from his college-self this will be a very exciting time to be a Steelers fan.
Josh Dobbs, on the other hand, has had a pretty rough training camp. He did this last year as well, but showed flashes in the preseason, where he led a few clutch drives, as well as showing his arm off a few times. The Steelers will want to see notable progress from him if he is going to supplant Landry Jones.
Rudolph and Dobbs together are an intriguing duo. Ben Roethlisberger is not playing and we already know what Landry Jones is capable of, but if Dobbs and Rudolph show up, Jones could be out of a job. While I do not consider it likely right now, I do believe there is an outside chance Dobbs and Rudolph do in fact perform well enough Jones is released by the Steelers.
Rudolph and Dobbs both need a lot of work, but with them being young, potential-filled players, you have to find it intriguing. Both had trouble processing the whole field coming out of college, and so against a defense that likes to run exotic looks even in vanilla defense, this is a good test for the young quarterbacks.
Dobbs has to show growth, though. If he does not show any poise in the pocket, ability to improve his ball placement, or show his processing has improved, he may very well prove he was a wasted pick last year by Kevin Colbert.
Other than linebacker, the secondary is a place of intrigue, and yet fear for Steelers fans. Free agent acquisition Morgan Burnett will be looking to impress in a variety of roles as he makes his debut with the Steelers. Rookies Terrell Edmunds and Marcus Allen will also look to have a big impact and prove that they were indeed the correct picks.
Edmunds, in particular, has to show he has improved on his processing and pursuit angles. By the sounds from camp, both have been true, as he has made a ton of great plays this camp alone, seemingly being the player the Steelers have needed. Allen has to show he can cover at least modestly well. We all know he is a great run defender, but he also has to show he is not a complete liability in coverage
Sean Davis will be playing in his first game as a true Free Safety. He has to show not only is his range a big addition the defense, but he has improved on his tackling. Davis has a knack for getting his nose around the football, he even led the team in tackles last season, but he has to show he can finish the play. Davis led the team in missed tackles last year, and if he can put things together at free safety, the Steelers instantly become a much better defense.
Sleeper Malik Golden will also be looking to impress and perhaps steal a roster spot. He had a great preseason and a good training camp last season until a groin injury ended his hopes of possibly making the roster. He has continued to have a decent camp and can perhaps be a welcome addition to the team as a whole.
The Enigma of Jaylen Samuels
One of the most versatile, and yet peculiar picks in this draft was Jaylen Samuels. He has so many possible uses in this offense. He can be used as a running back, slot receiver, outside receiver, tight end, H-Back, and fullback.
Thus, it is going to be an interesting story to watch how they use Samuels in today’s game. From the reports out of camp, expect him to be used at running back, slot receiver, and H-back, especially with Vance McDonald being out with a foot injury.
Randy Fichtner’s scheme calls for exotic plays and versatile players. This is why they drafted Jaylen Samuels. Samuels has a real shot to be a difference maker, and it sounds like he has thus far.
It is very likely we will not actually get the full view of just how Samuels will be used, but we will at least get an idea of how he will be used this season. We may see some two running back sets with James Conner very early on in the game. Regardless of how he is used this game, Samuels will be a player to watch, as he very easily can exploit defenses with his versatility.