The NFL had their grand reveal of the 2021 regular season schedule Wednesday night, and while many fans have been pouring over the schedule week-by-week, there was one aspect of the schedule most are just over looking.
That would be the preseason.
Yes, those meaningless games.
I, for one, am excited for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ four game preseason, thanks to the Hall of Fame game, and here are seven reasons why I am excited for those games which mean absolutely nothing.
The Steelers didn’t draft a quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft likely because they acquired Haskins as a street free agent early in the offseason. The former first round pick is looking to rejuvenate his career, and the Steelers, along with fans everywhere, want to know if Haskins can play. The preseason will be a great chance to see what the former Ohio State quarterback does, or doesn’t have, left in the tank. If he plays well, we might be watching the future quarterback of the Steelers. If he stinks, he might be playing his final snaps in the NFL. Either way, I’m intrigued.
Class of 2020 and 2019
The lack of a preseason in 2020 was something many fans were happy about. “Yeah! No stupid practice games!” I wasn’t one of those fans. As fans we can hate these games, but as an organization/team, they value these opportunities. In these settings is where you see growth, development and valuable repetitions. Think of players like Justin Layne, Anthony McFarland, Antoine Brooks Jr. and Carlos Davis. These players could all use the repetitions of live game play. It will not only help the team realize what they have, but give the fans a better glimpse of the players who were drafted who have hardly seen the field in their young NFL careers.
Just like with every NFL team, there are new players and new position groups heading into a new season. For the Steelers, they have several players who are stepping into new roles, and this isn’t including rookies. Zach Banner is back after his ACL surgery, and is locked to be the right tackle. Chukwuma Okorafor is slated to move from right tackle to left tackle, a position he hasn’t played since college. Throw in Kevin Dotson being the starter in his second year, Devin Bush returning from ACL surgery, Cam Sutton having a larger role on the defense and players like Joe Haeg and Miles Killebrew coming to the team and they could use all the reps they can get.
The Steelers 2021 NFL draft class is lucky they will have a preseason. Unlike the 2020 class, just six players, they will have plenty of time to prove their worth and sharpen their teeth against NFL competition who doesn’t wear the same color uniforms as they do. For players like Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth and Kendrick Green, who are expected to play large roles in 2021, they will be able to get acclimated to the professional game, and not just be thrust into the spotlight in Week 1.
Coaching staff additions
It isn’t just the players who will be getting experience in the preseason, but also the new coaches, primarily offensive coordinator Matt Canada. Everyone thinks they know what Canada’s offense will look like at the NFL level, but that is merely speculation. The only way to truly know is by seeing what he can do with a future Hall of Fame quarterback at the helm and some new pieces to the puzzle just acquired. While I expect a very vanilla offense in the preseason, it will be interesting to see how Canada dials things up and gets his feet wet at the NFL level.
One of the biggest reasons I’ve always loved the preseason is watching camp battles play out in front of our very eyes. Last season we had to trust coaches/media to give us those tidbits of information during a closed training camp and no preseason. With a preseason we will get to see who is out-performing the other in various camp battles. Some of the battles worth watching this year will be:
Jordan Berry vs. Pressley Harvin III
Benny Snell Jr. vs. Anthony McFarland
Justin Layne vs. James Pierre
Isaiah Buggs vs. Carlos Davis
Kendrick Green vs. B.J. Finney/J.C. Hassenauer
Among others. This year, barring something drastic happening, we will get to see these battles play out throughout the four game preseason.
Some sense of normalcy
The 2020 season was awful for many reasons. There was no training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA, there were hardly any fans at Heinz Field during the regular season and reading about games being postponed and players testing positive for COVID-19 was tiring. While 2021 won’t be “normal” as we grew to know it, it is setting up to be more normal than what we all experienced last season. And that isn’t a bad thing.
I welcome these practice games with open arms in 2021...and I suggest you do the same!