The Steelers are set to take on the Buccaneers in their first preseason game of 2019. Obviously, very few starters are going to play, Friday night, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things to watch for.
Below are six of those things.
I think Bush is a fairly obvious inclusion on any list of things to look for in the very first preseason game. The Steelers took a very unSteelers-like approach to acquiring Bush when they traded three premium draft picks to the Broncos in-order to move up 10 spots in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Can Bush truly be that difference-maker at inside linebacker the defense has lacked since Ryan Shazier was lost with a devastating spinal injury late in the 2017 season? We won’t know that answer by Friday, and you can often read too much into a preseason performance. But let’s just say it wouldn’t hurt the moral of Steelers fans if Bush had a professional football debut on par with that of T.J. Watt, who recorded a couple of quarterback sacks against the Giants two summers ago.
How incomplete passes will be handled now that pass interference is going to be a part of the replay challenge system in 2019
To challenge or not to challenge, that will be the dilemma for head coaches regarding any incomplete pass that does or does not result in a flag for pass interference in 2019. Following some egregious calls and non-calls that may have affected the results of a few very important games a season ago, the NFL decided to give its head coaches the right to challenge any incomplete pass that they feel should or shouldn’t have resulted in a pass interference penalty. Would a coach risk a challenge on such a play, especially early in a game? Coaches will still only have two challenges at their disposal, so it will be interesting to see how aggressive they are with this new rule. What I find really intriguing, however (and, quite frankly, a little alarming), is the prospect of every incomplete pass inside two minutes of each half now being ripe for automatic review. I don’t have to tell you how nerve-wracking that could be for fans, especially those whose favorite team’s defense just came up with a huge stop on fourth down late in the fourth quarter. Yikes.
Yes, as I wrote the other day, Boswell performing well in any setting that isn’t a regular season game doesn’t really tell me a whole heck of a lot. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be interesting to see how he responds in game-like conditions to the first true adversity of his career.
Fred Johnson, who the heck is he, and how did he get so tall?
Thanks to some recent buzz, I know who Johnson is, he’s an undrafted guard from Florida. As for how he got to be so tall (6’7” to be exact)? That’s a question perhaps best answered after examining his family tree. I won’t be examining Johnson’s family tree, but I would like to watch him perform against the Buccaneers, especially since, according to the Trib’s Chris Adamski, he’s the only rookie offensive lineman that has gotten consistent second team reps at training camp—and at both guard and tackle. I must admit I’m a big believer in whatever it is the Steelers have been doing with their project-type offensive linemen—Chris Hubbard, B.J. Finney, Alejandro Villanueva, Matt Feiler, etc.—since Mike Munchak began coaching the hogs several years ago. Does Shaun Sarrett, Munchak’s understudy who took over the unit after the latter departed for Denver, have that same magic touch? If he does, maybe he’ll start by doing some great things with Johnson.
The evolution of Mason Rudolph as an NFL quarterback
I don’t think it’s a huge secret that Rudolph, the second-year man the Steelers selected in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft, is expected to win the backup quarterback role this summer. But will he show enough during the preseason to beat out third-year man Joshua Dobbs? There hasn’t been a ton of buzz about Rudolph so far in camp, other than the usual cliches about him feeling and looking more comfortable in the offense than he did during his rookie year. It remains to be seen how the first, second and third-team reps will be divided up between Dobbs and Rudolph during the preseason, but if it’s a true competition for the backup spot, they should be split pretty evenly over the course of the four games. And if it is a true competition, does this mean Dobbs has a legit shot of retaining his role? At any rate, it will be interesting to see how much Rudolph has evolved as a quarterback from his rookie season.
Is Isaiah Buggs good enough to make the team?
If you Google Isaiah Buggs, the Alabama defensive end the Steelers selected in the sixth round this past spring, you’ll find a lot of positive news about his potential. That’s understandable. Buggs did play his final two seasons at a college football powerhouse—THE college football powerhouse—and performed really well in the process—including 9.5 sacks in his senior year. The smart money is on Buggs finally pushing big Daniel McCullers, who seems to have maxed out whatever potential he may have had when he was drafted in 2014, off the roster. But can he?
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they not only head through the preseason, but throughout the 2019 regular season.