I’d planned on watching last Friday’s preseason game from my apartment. I rip on the NFL preseason with impunity, but I’ll shamelessly allow that the opportunity to watch live football is a welcome respite from televised golf tournaments, HGTV, and the ongoing disgrace that is the Pittsburgh Pirates. Around 4 o’clock I received a text message from my wife informing me that, actually, we would not be watching football, but would instead be taking a house tour later that evening; football would have to wait. The house ended up being okay but nothing worth putting serious consideration into. After the showing, we booked it to Eat n’ Park for a late dinner.
We settled into a booth near the front bar. (Well, definitionally it’s a bar in the sense that it has an elevated tabletop, stools, and gruff patrons adorned in tattered Steelers garb, but it doesn’t serve alcohol so pragmatically it’s a catch-all for to-go orders and staff members who just wanna rest their elbows on something for a second.) Much to my delight, the television overhanging the bar was showing the preseason game.
It was about midway through the second quarter and Chris Boswell was about to attempt what looked to be about a 35-yard field goal. Two years ago, Chris Boswell squaring up a kick from anywhere remotely in the vicinity of Heinz Field’s goalposts was among the surest of sure things, but witnessing his disastrous 2018 campaign, one punctuated by a litany of shanks and squibs, has engendered in me deep and potentially chronic feelings of distrust. So, I sat sideways in a restaurant booth nervously watching a foremost source of my frustration with the 2018 iteration of the Steelers line up a chip-shot field goal and all of a sudden felt a damp warmth on my leg. My five-month-old daughter, who was sitting on my lap so that we could both revel in the enchantment of taking in our first Steelers game together, had spit up a portion of her previous meal. As my wife scrambled to find napkins, I turned the baby around to face me; unbothered by the proceedings, she giggled. I lifted her skyward to evaluate the collateral damage to my pants, noticing minimal staining—thankfully; these were good pants—but very pronounced wet spots all over my crotch area. Awesome. I handed the baby off and headed for the bathroom, where I tried but ultimately failed to remove the wet spots from my pants. Dejected, I exited into the main lobby right as a group of about five or six teenagers was entering the restaurant. One of them spotted me, glanced down toward my crotch, and smirked. I was sans baby at the time, so the markings on my pants looked exactly like what these teens assumed they were.
This is all a roundabout way of saying that I missed the rest of the live telecast of the game and, like a fool, watched a recap on NFL Game Pass specifically for the purpose of writing this article. Therefore, before leaving a mean comment, please remember that I was vomited on and laughed at to bring you this story. Stock report!
Quarterbacks: Trending up
Josh Dobbs started Friday’s game, which is probably a pretty reliable indicator of where he stands in the pecking order. He played efficiently, orchestrating a pair of successful forays that yielded a grand total of six Steelers points, and was responsible for the most fun play of the night, in which he evaded roughly 17 Tampa Bay defenders during a scramble on 3rd-and-long.
But what Dobbs failed to do was draw praise from Dez Bryant, who is currently semi-retired and Extremely Online. In that regard, Mason Rudolph excelled mightily.
I’m not being biased I promise...@Rudolph2Mason look like a starter in this league..keep killing brotha— Dez Bryant (@DezBryant) August 10, 2019
Dez might be on to something! Rudolph looked real sharp against Tampa Bay’s scrubs, throwing a pair of touchdowns, avoiding any sacks, and just generally looking like a professional quarterback who was comfortable in his element. I am of the mind that it’s still entirely too early to draw any reliable conclusions about Dobbs or Rudolph, but if both players continue to perform well and the Steelers find themselves with a surfeit of quarterback talent as a result, it may behoove them to liquidate the quarterback room.
Also, the Steelers should bring Dez in for a tryout.
Running backs: Trending down
Dobbs’ aforementioned scamper and a 21-yard run by Jaylen Samuels accounted for more than 50 percent of Pittsburgh’s gross rushing output, so the 108 rushing yards amassed by the Steelers is a pretty uninspiring figure. Benny Snell, a player who I genuinely believe(d) could play a valuable role in the rushing attack this season, had a rough night. Indeed, I expected the former All-American to slalom effortlessly through Tampa’s ranks of meaty backup defensive lineman, but by the time the final whistle sounded Snell had only managed 26 yards on 13 carries. Thankfully for Snell, no one else in the backfield did much to challenge his standing as the presumed no. 3 back.
Samuels rules hard and should play be afforded a reasonable share of the backfield duties.
Receivers: Trending up
You’ve by now undoubtedly read many dozens of words about James Washington, so I’ll spare your eyes the needless legwork. I do want to point out how much it sucks that the receiver depth chart is more or less already set. Juju Smith-Schuster, Donte Moncrief, and Washington are mortal locks, as is Dionte Johnson by virtue of his third-round draft status. You have to assume that Ryan Switzer’s multi-functionality as a returner and sure-handed slot receiver assures him a spot and Eli Rogers is a proven commodity, so I think his job’s safe, too. I cannot envision a reality in which the Steelers retain seven receivers, so barring any major injuries or Switzer’s or Rogers’ games going to hell, Ken Griffey Jr’s kid probably doesn’t stand much of a chance to make this team.
It took me longer than I care to admit to realize that Zach Gentry is not, in fact, Jesse James.
Offensive line and Defensive line: No movement
Not much to report on either side. The starting units are already set. I suppose for a bit of meat to chew on you can consider keeping an eye on any ongoing “battles” for the top rotational spot on either line. The frontrunners at present are Tyson Alualu and B.J. Finney, but of course that’s subject to change.
Linebackers: Trending up
I’ll eschew the redundant Devin Bush analysis (seriously, he looked so, go good) in favor of general feedback about some other linebackers. Ulysees Gilbert III had a nice game, as did Olasunkanmi Adeniyi. I thought Adeniyi had a good chance of making the final roster last season, so I think he’ll find himself in that conversation once again so long as his game remains consistent. If he elevates his play, he could find his way into the rotation. The Steelers will likely keep eight or nine linebackers, no more than four of which being the inside variety. Bush, Vince Williams, and Mark Barron should be locks, but it is not unreasonable to suggest that Gilbert III could supplant longtime special teamer Tyler Matakevich, a decent high-energy player with limited upside and a severely-capped professional ceiling.
Secondary: No movement
The secondary is currently dealing with a number of injuries, so I actually considered leaving this alone entirely. Moreover, given the lateness of this article, you’ve already digested more than a few helpings of piping-hot Justin Layne slander. This is a tepid take, but I think it may be mutually beneficial for Layne and the Steelers to make the 2019 campaign something of a redshirt season for Layne. The Steelers have plenty of warm bodies to make the secondary work and it could do Layne a world of good to watch the likes of Mike Hilton and Joe Haden ply their trade, iron out any idiosyncrasies, and then dive headlong back into the muck in 2020.
Special teams: Trending up
God bless you, Chris Boswell.