The Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers will square off Friday night in the official Week 3 of the NFL Preseason. This game marks the fourth of four preseason games for the Steelers, and expectations will be adjusted accordingly.
In the first three preseason games, the veterans did not play much, if at all, and this fourth game shouldn’t change that with many starters already slated to miss the game. With that said, I decided to list five offensive players to keep an eye on during the game in Charlotte, NC.
(Editor’s Note: This list was compiled without the use of quarterbacks, as both Dwayne Haskins and Joshua Dobbs will handle all the quarterback duties vs. Carolina.)
Benny Snell Jr. — No. 24 — Running Back
Steelers fans haven’t seen Benny Snell in his third year yet this preseason, and his production, or lack thereof, could play a huge role in the makeup of this team. Do they keep four running backs just because of Snell, or would he be on the trading block if he doesn’t perform well? So many unknowns, but one thing is for certain, Snell will be getting a lot of carries Friday night and will prove his worth.
James Washington — No. 13 — Wide Receiver
It is likely the main receivers won’t be much, if at all. Chase Claypool will likely sit due to his ankle injury, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson will likely get pulled early, which means more repetitions for Washington. With Haskins at quarterback, look for Washington to be his go-to target, and this will be great for Washington as he hopes for a more prominent role in the offense in 2021.
Offensive Line — All of Them
I expect the starting five offensive linemen will get a few reps together on Friday night, and I want to see how they look. The fact Zach Banner only played 12 snaps vs. Detroit is enough to have me keeping an eye on this position group.
Zach Gentry — No. 81 — Tight End
Gentry has a legitimate shot to not just be on the 53-man roster, but to be a person who gets a helmet on game day and has a role. Gentry will be battling the likes of Kevin Rader, and Trey Edmunds as an H-back, and I would expect Gentry to get a lot of playing time vs. the Panthers.
Anthony McFarland — No. 26 — Running Back
Unlike Snell, McFarland has gotten a lot of repetitions this preseason, but what we haven’t seen from McFarland yet is his blazing speed. I would love to see McFarland do what Najee Harris did vs. Detroit and have a splash play. I don’t care if it is a screen, a dump off pass or a run up the gut. I want to see McFarland show fans what he brings to the team as a change of pace back.
Kalen Ballage — No. 29 — Running Back
Snell and Ballage could be a battle to watch, and Ballage will get a chance to prove himself. It won’t just be in Snell’s hands. With that said, Ballage could play his way onto the roster with a stellar performance.
Pat Freiermuth — No. 88 — Tight End
I’m not sure if Freiermuth plays, wouldn’t be shocked if he gets rested, but I would love to see his response to his 2 TD performance vs. the Lions last week.
Matthew Sexton — No. 80 — Kick/Punt Returner
Some suggest Sexton is battling Ray-Ray McCloud for the return man role, but the one thing which will keep him off the roster will be if he can’t be a part of the passing game. He might be the better returner, but how many NFL teams have a pure return man on the roster who can’t play elsewhere? The answer is not many, if any at all, so if Sexton can’t become a receiving option, I doubt he makes the 53-man roster. Definitely a practice squad candidate though.
For more of an explanation on the above list, check out my latest Let’s Ride podcast in the player below:
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.