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Five Pittsburgh Steelers players to watch vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Preseason Week 1

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Who should you be watching when the Steelers host the Buccaneers in Week 1 of the NFL Preseason? My list might not be the same as yours...

NFL: JUL 31 Steelers Training Camp Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Devin Bush, Matt Feiler, Donte Moncrief, and the two backup quarterbacks will be the hot takes for most Pittsburgh Steelers fans — not me. Not going to deny I am excited to see how they play, but I want to dive deeper into the roster and look at guys who may play more. Pouring through the stats from the Steelers and the Philadelphia Eagles for the first preseason game in 2018, some deeper depth players received substantial playing time compared to players further up the depth chart. James Conner received four carries while Fitzgerald Toussaint and Stevan Ridley accounted for 16 totes total. James Washington had two catches while Damoun Patterson snared six. While two of them did not make the final roster, fans were treated to their first glimpse at Ola Adeniyi. Adeniyi played a lot during the game and totaled two tackles, one sack, and a forced fumble.

So, let’s get to the five players I am going to be watching Friday night:

QB Devlin Hodges

The first of the five players I am excited to view is Devlin Hodges. There is no sugar coating how Joshua Dobbs and Mason Rudolph have struggled in training camp while Hodges has shown some prowess that led him to be the all-time NCAA leading passer. Has he done most of his damage against players who will be out of the NFL in a month? Yes, same as he did when he padded his stats at Samford in college. Hodges at 6’1 211 has not embarrassed himself at training camp. Has he made mistakes? Absolutely, but he has not crumbled after making the mistakes.

Wanting to see Hodges does not mean I am burying Dobbs or Rudolph, more of wanting to see him in the live game action. What I worry about is that head coach Mike Tomlin is going to only want to see what the team has in their former draft picks and not an undrafted player. I really want to see Hodges given a quarter to play. Hard to say if he will play against anyone but camp bodies that late in the game. At least it would give us fans the opportunity to see his mechanics and decision making.

WR Dionate Spencer

A few months ago I wrote an introductory article about wideout Diontae Spencer and his dream to play in the NFL after playing in the CFL the past four seasons. Who does not want to see how a player who stands 5’8 and weighs 163 pounds who owns the all-time game records for all-purpose yards (496)? Spencer has had some concentration drops but has also blazed his 4.34 speed that helped him make the CFL-East All-Star squad the past two seasons. The burning question is can he make the 53-man roster without securing one or both of the return man duties? Where does he sit in the pecking order in both return duties and slot wide receiver? That is what Is on my mind. Right now I project him making the final roster. Will he make you forget that he played in the CFL the past few years or show you he deserved to be playing in the NFL already?

OL Damian Prince

Damian Prince is also another player I did an introductory article on and liked what I saw on tape and other evaluations. Prince has been buried on the depth chart and I have not read many positives on him in camp. The 6’4 and 317 pounder out of Maryland has a tough path not only to meaningful playing time in the preseason but also a chance to make the 53-man roster. Tonight in the time to shine with offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins struggles so far in camp according to multiple reports. Can he keep a clean pocket and open up holes while limiting mistakes that get the coach’s attention in a negative way?

NT Daniel McCullers

Nose tackle Dan McCullers is the first of two defensive players I really want to see. No groaning and growling. Big Dan has remained on the team since 2014 for a reason. Okay, for several reasons but the first is he performs well in training camp and is not a complete liability in limited regular-season snaps. The second reason is Pittsburgh has not seen a reason to upgrade him. The team trusts him and sees his value. That value could be tested at the end of the season when I expect Javon Hargrave to bolt to another team for a substantial raise and over 50% of the playing time.

Do I want to see McCullers starting next season? No, no, and no! But I would not mind having him around to mentor and not have some rookie or free agent have to compete or getting pointers from the likes of Lavon Hooks next season. I do not mind that McCullers is not flashy and will never be. I like the fact that he eats up a huge amount of space in the middle and is somewhat nimble for a man over 350 pounds.

Kameron Kelly/P.J. Locke

I had to rewrite this section as I just read about Kameron Kelly being leapfrogged yesterday by P.J. Locke III in practice. I still want to see Kelly, but I also want to see how Locke performs. I have not read a lot about the former Texas product. I just shy away from wanting to see any defensive player out of the Big 12. Since 2017, only five defensive backs have been drafted from the conference. None in 2019 and the highest one was the 99th overall in 2017. (Rasul Douglas).

The Steelers safety depth is just plain worrisome. Right now how many Steelers fans want to see Jordan Dangerfield or Marcus Allen in sub-packages? Morgan Burnett was in on 37% of the snaps last year, most of which were ineffective. While many will point out that inside linebacker Mark Barron is a former safety, I should also note it the Los Angeles Rams moved him because of his poor coverage skills. Who fills those sub-packages? Devin Bush, an unproven rookie? Cam Sutton or Mike Hilton moved out of their normal position? Can Locke relieve some angst with sub-packages being so prevalent?

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I was really wanting to see Artie Burns or Brian Allen play, but the cornerback corps are decimated by injuries and not overly thrilled to see any of the longshot guys. Another player I was really excited to see was running back Ralph Webb. Unfortunately, Webb was injured in practice and waived/released on Thursday. Was hearing a lot of good things from camp about him.

I am just looking to dig deeper than the normal players that will get all the media hype. The rookies, Barron, Moncrief and the quarterbacks. Depth, subpackage players, and special teams are important too.

Any of the lesser name players you will keep an eye out for tonight? Please tell us who and why in the comments section below.