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Roster Battle Royale: What’s changed for the Pittsburgh Steelers after Preseason Week 4?

Looking at a few key roster battles and what we can learn from game 4.

NFL: Preseason-Pittsburgh Steelers at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Following the preseason and trying to predict the roster is one of my favorite things to do. Some things in Week 4 stood out and changed some of my thoughts on players odds of making the team.

Let’s dig in.

Tuzar Skipper

Tuzar was used differently early in game 4, he was making reads (two-gapping) and was switching into coverage. He also played on every ST unit that took the field in the first quarter. Then he was out. Other players got to play the last bit of the first quarter and most of the second.

Here’s Tuzar dropping into coverage, He’s the edge defender to the top of the screen who moves out toward the slot WR.

Tuzar has Kameron Kelly as the single high safety, tries to use inside leverage and get hands on the receiver, but the WR releases outside and blows past him. Rookie mistake.

When I saw how they were using him, and that they were asking him to do more than they had asked him to do, it stood out. This was Tuzar getting his shot to make the 53. He did it for two drives, left the game, and came back at the end of the 2nd quarter. He played the rest of the game but was just rushing and playing ST. He made some plays on ST, but he wasn’t in coverage or reading the play on defense after the first quarter. Whether he showed what Tomlin wanted to see in those two drives or not we’ll find out when they announce the cuts. But he got his shot.

The WR position

The wide receiver group looks less set than it did after game No. 3. Diontae Spencer didn’t return kicks at all, but he did play WR. Rogers and Switzer rotated at WR and punt returner, with Holton returning kicks. Eli Rogers even lined up outside a few times, with James Washington in the slot. That’s big, because Switzer only lined up in the slot, and Fichtner showed when Ben was in that the Steelers are looking to move players around, JuJu especially, but everyone else played multiple spots as well.

Switzer being slot-only really hurts his value. It seems strange that Ryan Switzer and Eli Rogers would be playing like that if they were both making the team. Game 4 looked like a classic Tomlin 2 players, 1 spot contest for Rogers and Switzer. But if only one of them makes it, is Spencer the other WR as a returner? Is Holton? Tomlin rarely likes a room without a veteran leader in it, and Holton is the oldest WR on the roster, and a good kick returner, while Spencer has been the best punt returner we’ve seen on the Steelers that wasn’t also the best WR in the NFL in quite a while. Holton made some nice plays at WR in this game, and now has two 40+ yard plays as a receiver this preseason, league wide only James Washington has more.

This TD is legit, and against Doss, who was causing Washington and Johnson problems, Holton is at the bottom of the screen.

Stutters inside to get the CB to lose some of his outside leverage, then goes outside and swipes the defender’s hand down so he can get past him. The pass is great, but Holton does a nice job of getting open and bringing in the catch. Note the TD was 31 yards, that’s not one of his 40+ yard plays. If you give Ben Roethlisberger a No. 4 or No. 5 WR with speed like that it creates space for other WRs to work, because if he beats your defender Roethlisberger will turn it into a TD. Holton also showed he could take a dump off and break a big run against Tampa Bay. Could both Spencer and Holton make the 53, with Switzer and Rogers both left off? I would have said no before Thursday evening, but game 4 opened that possibility back up.

I’m giving the edge to Holton and Switzer right now, because if Holton makes it they need a reliable punt returner, but we’ll see.

Dobbs vs. Hodges, or What happened to the Offensive Line?

Dobbs honestly seems to have regressed this preseason, and this game was no different. He failed to lead receivers, his deep ball, that is usually his best asset, has been a little short this preseason but it was even worse in game 4. This is not the same guy we saw run Landry Jones out of the NFL a year ago. I don’t know what is going on with Dobbs, but he’s been bad this preseason.

Devlin Hodges had Diontae Johnson, Zach Gentry, Benny Snell, he even had snaps with James Washington at WR.

Like Tuzar Skipper, this game they were giving Devlin Hodges a legit shot at beating out Dobbs. Sadly, the only thing we really learned is that Devlin Hodges can’t run for his life like Josh Dobbs can.

Chukwuma Okorafor and Jerald Hawkins struggled, but the real problem was Derwin Gray, who looked like a Hockey Goalie who doesn’t know the Butterfly sucks. Remember Jonathon Scott? Derwin Gray made him look good. Several times two players rushed him, and with no help coming from the Center or Tackle he decided to block neither of them. He did better when they switched him to the right side of the line, and Hodges was able to complete some passes and move the Steelers down the field a bit.

Hodges threw some good passes while evading pressure, only to have drops and penalties take them away. Not a bad game when you look at film, but the lack of production, while more on the offense than on Hodges, may cost him any shot he had of making the team. I hope not, because the film says he’s better at QB than Dobbs is right now. If Dobbs makes the Steelers roster it has to be the Steelers believing that Dobbs’ pre-season isn’t really him, and he’s more the player they saw last year in preseason. Because that Dobbs would be pushing Rudolph for the No. 2 spot, not playing like he doesn’t belong in the NFL.

It all makes for a very interesting cut-down day as we wait to see who will get the final spots on the Steelers 2019 roster.