The Runner Sports

Steelers Preseason Takeaways

The Pittsburgh Steelers wrapped up a strong preseason Thursday night with a 17-14 victory over the Carolina Panthers. Rookie QB Josh Dobbs (16/23, 212 yards, 2 total TDs) had another impressive performance while the defense racked up 4 turnovers. The win capped off a 3-1 preseason, and while the final record is meaningless, the player evaluations during these past four weeks have been invaluable to both coaches and players. Before jumping into some takeaways from on-the-field performances, let’s take a minute to catch up on some other news from the past week:

 

Martavis Bryant fully reinstated

After being suspended in March of 2016, Bryant was conditionally reinstated for the 2017 preseason. Playing a part-time role, he finished with 7 catches for 43 yards. This was an important opportunity to shake off the rust of not having played an NFL game in over a year, but the question remained if he would be cleared to play by the team’s first regular season game. Well as of Friday, that question has been answered: Martavis Bryant has officially been fully reinstated for the 2017 season. He became a lethal deep threat during his first two years in the league, and his presence will be most welcome for QB Ben Roethlisberger and the entirety of the offense.

 

Le’Veon Bell Ends Holdout

When Bell’s rookie contract expired at the end of 2016, he and the Steelers front office were unable to agree on a new contract. As a result, the all-pro RB held out from training camp and preseason activities with the promise to return to the team September 1. He rejoined the team Friday, and is expected to sign a one-year franchise tender to keep him under contract until we do this same dance next offseason.

 

Joe Haden Signing

The Steelers added a veteran presence to their young secondary Wednesday when they snatched up seven-year veteran CB, Joe Haden, within hours of his release by Cleveland. The 28-year-old signed a three-year, $27-million contract and gives this defense an immediate boost. Haden has been to two Pro Bowls and has intercepted at least three passes in five of the six seasons in which he’s played at least 10 games. For comparison, Steelers’ CBs combined for just 4 INTs a year ago. He’ll be the starting corner across from second-year man Artie Burns, and makes this unit a lot more exciting with his mere presence.

 

Trade for Vance McDonald

Pittsburgh added talent at the TE position by trading their 2018 4th-round draft pick to the 49ers in exchange for starter Vance McDonald and a 5th-round selection next year. McDonald spent the first four years of his career in San Francisco, two of which as the backup to Vernon Davis. He showed flashes of potential as a pass-catcher, at times running routes out of the slot and displaying strong hands. It’s another attempt to upgrade a weak position group after the Ladarius Green experiment of the past few years failed. At the very least, McDonald should provide depth for Jesse James and better blocking in two-TE sets than current roster options. The price was right, too — if the Steelers make a playoff run and the 49ers finish towards the bottom of the league (neither of which is a stretch of the imagination), the number of draft selections they move down would be minimal.

 

 

The NFL instated a new policy this year allowing rosters to stay at 90 men throughout the preseason until 4 pm ET on Saturday, September 2. At this time the roster must be cut down to the final 53. In previous years there have been two sets of cuts, one to get down to 75 players and then one more to get to 53. This allowed extra opportunities for fringe players to prove themselves. Like most NFL teams, the Steelers had a number of players make a strong push for a roster spot in crunch time. Here are some takeaways from the 2017 preseason as a whole:

 

Josh Dobbs made a strong case for the backup QB Job

The Steelers utilized a 4th-round draft pick on Dobbs this April hoping he will one day take the reins from Roethlisberger when the day eventually comes that he hangs up his cleats. This draft pick already has the makings of a shrewd one. Incumbent backup Landry Jones was injured to start the preseason, leading to Dobbs seeing extended playing time under center. He completed 38/64 passes (59%) for 406 yards (6.3 yards/attempt), 2 TDs, and 3 INTs. He also made plays on the ground, rushing for a game-winning touchdown Thursday night. The rookie showed off his big arm and good situational awareness, not making many of the mistakes you often see from first-year players in critical situations. Like any rookie, there’s clearly a lot for him to improve on (going through his progressions, pocket awareness would be a few examples), but as of right now his future looks very bright.

Landry Jones, who signed a two-year extension this offseason, has had several opportunities to prove himself over the years in meaningful games due to Roethlisberger injuries and hasn’t done so. His struggles continued this preseason after returning from an abdominal injury. He completed 67% of his passes for 191 yards (5.2 yards/attempt), 1 TD, and 2 INT. These stats are consistent with the dink-and-dunk tendencies he’s shown throughout his career. However, he also doesn’t take care of the football the way a “game manager” QB should. In two years of intermittent playing time, Jones has thrown 7 TDs and committed 7 turnovers (6 INT, 1 FUML). Should anything happen to Ben Roethlisberger this season (knock on wood) it should be Dobbs who takes over this offense, not Jones.

 

The Steelers Have Great RB Depth

DeAngelo Williams proved a more-than-capable backup over the past few seasons, so when the team opted to let him walk this offseason it raised some eyebrows (two, at least). However, the team has done a lot to address the position. They drafted James Conner in the 3rd round this year and signed second-year free agent Terrell Watson, to join Fitzgerald Toussaint and, obviously, Bell. Watson and Conner both looked great this preseason. Conner finished with 124 yards (5.1 avg), while Watson had 173 yards on the ground (4.7 avg) and a TD along with 6 receptions for 47 yards. Knile Davis has been cut already, and if a roster spot comes down to Watson and Toussaint, there’s growing sentiment that it could be Toussaint that gets shown the door. Watson and Conner are both big bruising backs, while Toussaint is more of a 3rd down pass-catcher. That could weigh into the decision too, but either way, this unit looks to be a strength of the team again in 2017.

 

T.J. Watt Could Push Harrison for Playing Time

This year’s 1st-round draft selection is another attempt to replace the seemingly ageless James Harrison. Early indications are that Watt could do just that, and possibly much sooner than anyone imagined. In his preseason debut, Watt registered a pair of sacks along with 3 solo tackles. His sack production flatlined the rest of the preseason, but he showed strength and vision in run support as well. After that first preseason game, LB coach Joey Porter said he was ready to name Watt the starter opposite Bud Dupree, relegating Harrison to a situational role. It seems unlikely that that will be the Week 1 reality, but whether it’s opening day or a few games into the season, Watt is poised to make a big impact for this defense.

 

Steelers’ DB Room Getting Crowded

This is especially true with the Haden signing, but even before that, things were getting interesting. It now seems a certainty that Haden and Burns will start outside, relegating Ross Cockrell to the slot, or the bench. This year’s 3rd-round pick Cameron Sutton returned from injury in preseason Week 3 and has played well enough that he seems a lock to make the team. Mike Hilton has seemingly come out of nowhere and dominated the past month. He was added to the practice squad in late 2016, but is really making an impression lately. He’s played primarily in the slot and made several big plays when given the opportunity. Conversely, Will Gay, the 10-year veteran, has been slowing down in recent years. This abundance of talent could spell the end of the road for Senquez Golson, the oft-injured 2015 2nd-round pick.

 

Be sure to check back soon for updates on the final roster for the 2017 edition of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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