The Pittsburgh Steelers finished last year 9-6-1 and missed the playoffs for the first time since back-to-back 8-8 finishes in 2012 and 2013. Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger are looking to make sure that history won’t repeat itself and lead the Steelers back to the postseason. With Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown both on different teams for the upcoming season, the Steelers have some interesting competitions at the offensive skill positions as well as the defensive side of the ball.
The Steelers hosted Tampa Bay in their preseason opener as they held off a late charge and took care of the Buccaneers with a 30-28 victory at Heinz Field.
Here are three players to keep an eye on as Pittsburgh tries to make it two in a row as they host the Kansas City Chiefs in preseason Week 2 action.
3. RB Benny Snell Jr.
Snell was a stud at Kentucky as he racked up over 4,000 scrimmage yards and 48 touchdowns in three years against SEC defenses. The Steelers grabbed Snell in the fourth round of this year’s draft and are hopeful he can compliment James Conner in the backfield. Snell is currently competing for the backup running back spot with Jaylen Samuels, a fifth round pick in 2018 who served as Conner’s backup as a rookie.
Snell received the lion’s share of carries (13, 2.0 Y/C) in the first preseason game while Samuels only had two, one of which was a 22-yard burst in the second quarter. It will be interesting to see how the carries balance out in Week 2 and if Snell can take advantage if given the bulk of the work for consecutive weeks. Finding a solid backup to Conner could serve the Steelers well and my guess is that guy will be Snell.
2. QB Mason Rudolph
The preseason is made for backup quarterbacks to get reps on tape to secure jobs, especially on a team with an established QB1. Big Ben is the franchise guy in Pittsburgh, but the battle for his backup spot is a key for the remainder of the preseason.
Josh Dobbs, who backed up Roethlisberger in 2018, got the start and played two series in Week 1 against the Buccaneers. Rudolph took over in the second quarter and really impressed with two touchdown throws. Dobbs is more of a dual-threat option while Rudolph, Oklahoma State University’s record-setting quarterback, is more of a pocket presence. Both guys performed well in Week 1, but the touchdowns gave the edge to Mason Rudolph.
Coach Tomlin said Mason Rudolph will start at QB on Saturday at @heinzfield vs. the Kansas City Chiefs.
— Missi Matthews (@missi_matthews) August 15, 2019
Rudolph will get the start at home against the Chiefs in Week 2. All eyes will be on him as he tries to improve on his Week 1 performance.
1. LB Devin Bush
You cannot replace a Ryan Shazier. Losing Shazier during the 2017 season was a crushing blow, both on a human level and a football level. While his presence can’t fully be duplicated, the Steelers are hoping their first round pick Devin Bush can be the next great Pittsburgh linebacker and make an instant impact on and off the field.
Bush, the 10th overall selection from Michigan, had a stellar performance in the Steelers first preseason game against Tampa Bay, detailed here. Bush has phenomenal awareness and his closing/tackling skills were on full display against the Bucs. His spot on the roster is not in doubt, but he is definitely a guy to watch on the Steelers defense if only because his impact is hard to miss.
Another strong showing from Devin Bush against the Chiefs would go a long way towards shoring up an impressive Steelers defensive unit headed into the season.