Steelers kick-off preseason Friday
The Pittsburgh Steelers will provide a limited view of their 2019 team when they host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a preseason game Friday night at Heinz Field. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m.
To be honest, this is a glorified scrimmage played under game conditions. Neither team will gameplan. Most of the plays will be called from a script. The regulars generally play a quarter, sometimes even less.
Steelers fans will get their first look at wide receiver Donte Moncrief, who has been impressive during offseason workouts and training camp. Signed as a free agent during the offseason, Moncrief, who turned 26 on Tuesday, is a five-year veteran. Moncrief seems to have developed a good rapport with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, with his crisp routes and good hands.
At 26 years of age, Moncrief and Eli Rogers are the Steelers oldest wide receivers. Others in the mix for playing time opposite JuJu Smith-Schuster, are James Washington, Diontae Johnson and Ryan Switzer. A pulled hamstring has limited Johnson’s snaps the past few days. Switzer and Johnson have been seeing extensive action as kick and punt returners.
The departed Antonio Brown was targeted 168 times in 2018, so there are plenty of potential passes for this group to go after. Last season, Smith-Schuster was targeted 166 times.
In 2018, the Steelers only intercepted eight passes, to rank 28th in the league. That paltry number has been a focus for the secondary at training camp. The defensive backs have been spending at least 20 minutes per day catching passes fired from the JUGS machine.
Steven Nelson, who had four picks for Kansas City in 2018, was signed to play the corner opposite Joe Haden. Nelson takes over for Cody Sensabaugh, who was not re-signed. Cornerback Cam Sutton has looked good, meriting an increase in playing time in the Steelers’ five and six-defensive back packages.
Fans are probably expecting first-round pick Devin Bush to team with veteran Vince Williams at the inside linebacker posts. For the time being, Williams is paired with offseason signee Mark Barron. Bush is listed as Barron’s backup. That is head coach Mike Tomlin’s style, putting the veterans ahead of the rookies in the early going, even if they are heralded as much as Bush is. It shouldn’t take too long for Bush to move into Williams’ spot. While Williams is strong on run defense, Barron is better at dropping off into pass coverage. Barring injuries, Barron and Bush will be the starters when the regular season opens.
Backup offensive tackles Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor will likely take snaps at both right and left tackle. Okorafor normally plays on the right with Banner on the left. The Steelers are wanting to increase both players’ versatility by having them learn both sides of the offensive line. Okorafor may also take snaps at tight end when the Steelers go to their three tight end package.
Preseason games are important for the younger players. It gives them a chance to demonstrate, not only to their own coaches, but to other teams around the league, their talents in a game-like situation. It’s also an opportunity for them to get some much-needed video, so that if, or when, they get released, other teams will have something to evaluate them on.
Preseason games are also important for the officials, as some crews may have new members. It’s important for them to develop their team chemistry. Plus, there are new rules and points of emphasis.
Stadium personnel, such as ushers, security and concession workers may be in new positions and also have new guidelines.
While it doesn’t matter who wins or loses the game, preseason games are important.