The Pittsburgh Steelers are in uncharted territory entering the 2019 season. After a discouraging 2018 season in which they missed the playoffs, Pittsburgh is facing back-to-back seasons of falling short of the postseason for the first time since 2012-2013.
Mike Tomlin is entering his 13th season as the Steelers head coach and is hoping for better results in the upcoming season. The Steelers opened their slate of preseason games on Friday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Steelers sat most of their starters on both sides of the ball but some of the starters played limited snaps. However, rookie sensation Devin Bush played the entire first half of the game and to no one's surprise, he was all over the field.
The Steelers traded up to the 10th overall pick in this year's draft to land the Michigan linebacker. Since Ryan Shazier's unforeseen injury, Pittsburgh has been trying to find a player to replace his production at inside linebacker.
Aside from Bush, there were other players who raised questions for the Steelers. Here are three burning questions for the Steelers after their first preseason game.
3. What role will Benny Snell have in the offense?
Along with their first-round pick, the fans were also awaiting the debut of Benny Snell. Pittsburgh used a fourth-round selection to appoint Snell to the 2019 roster.
Before the Steelers preseason contest against Tampa Bay, Snell entered the game as the team's third running back on the depth chart. Tomlin and the Steelers have a preconceived notion that Snell is going to be a perfect fit.
Where does Snell fit into the offense and what they want to do? Against the Buccaneers on Friday, Snell was given plenty of opportunities to showcase his ability as a runner but underwhelmed in his debut.
The rookie out of Kentucky ran 13 times for just 26 yards. Snell also caught two passes for 25 yards. James Conner will be the starter once again, with Jaylen Samuels also being utilized in the offense.
That leaves Snell with an ample number of touches to be a difference-maker in the Steelers offense.
Maybe Snell is given short-yardage duties? Or could he become a special teams standout? Nonetheless, Snell's role in the Steelers offense is a mystery at this point of the preseason.
2. Can James Washington become a reliable target at wide receiver?
Among the second-year players on the roster, fans had their eyes locked on No. 13 at wide receiver. James Washington enters his second season with the franchise after a disappointing rookie campaign in 2018.
The Steelers used their second-round pick on Washington in the 2018 NFL Draft. As a result of his high draft selection, there were expectations that the Oklahoma State product would be an immediate contributor in the offense.
Early in the season, fans in Pittsburgh quickly realized that Washington was going to be a “work in progress” as a young receiver. Washington caught just 16 passes for 217 yards and one touchdown in his limited time on the field.
Coming into this season, Washington seems motivated on making his 2018 season a forgotten topic. The 23-year old wide receiver showed progress by tallying four receptions for 84 yards and a touchdown.
Without Antonio Brown on the team, Pittsburgh is relying on multiple players to create the production that is lost with Brown. Presently, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Donte Moncrief are the starting receivers. Washington could earn a role in the offense if he maintains his current level of play.
1. How good can Devin Bush be?
As previously mentioned, the Steelers were itching to play Devin Bush. The rookie linebacker delivered with an impressive showing in his preseason debut versus the Buccaneers.
Bush, a Florida native, amassed eight tackles; he was all over the field against Tampa Bay. The Steelers' first-round pick seemed like he had a clone on the field who was playing alongside him.
Bush was given 40 defensive snaps before resting in the second half of the game. Tomlin had seen what he wanted from his stalwart inside linebacker.
Pittsburgh has been longing for an inside presence since Ryan Shazier was required to step away from the field. The Steelers may have the next star at linebacker if Bush continues on this trajectory.
Don't be surprised when Bush is the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year.