Steelers football is back(ish)! The large boys of summer open their preseason schedule Friday against Eli Manning (‘s backup) and the New York Giants in beautiful East Rutherford, NJ. While every Steelers game is appointment viewing in Pittsburgh, here the things you should pay the most attention to as the preseason kicks off, and you get in some valuable reps for regular season football-watching.
10. Celebrity coaches
Former Steelers Hines Ward, Alan Faneca, Charlie Batch and Kendall Simmons have all spent time at training camp this summer working as coaching interns. Ward especially seemed to develop a bond with rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster.
We’ll get to see this week for the first time if the intern coaches helped. If not, I have a celebrity suggestion for next year: Troy Polamalu. You know, the voice actor from “Moana.”
9. Martavis Bryant
Martavis Bryant is back! Sort of. The talented deep threat receiver who missed all of last season due to a marijuana-related suspension — the OFFICIAL suspension of the Pittsburgh Steelers — is now allowed to practice. But he can’t play in games yet as the NFL continues to evaluate “his readiness to participate in regular-season activities under the terms of his conditional reinstatement.”
Pick up the pace, NFL. The season is fast approaching and the Steelers need answers. More importantly: we all need to know if we should draft Bryant in fantasy.
8. James Conner!
… will not play. Unfortunately. He has an injured shoulder. But if you want clicks about football in Pittsburgh in 2017, you put James Conner’s name in your article. James Conner, James Conner, James Conner.
Other Steelers you will not see in action Friday include: Sammie Coates, Demarcus Ayers, Cam Sutton, Mike Mitchell, Senquez Golson, Maurkice Pouncey, Mike Matthews, Keion Adams, Willie Parker, Terry Bradshaw and Dick Lane. (Editor’s note: Also Le’Veon Bell. If he counts.)
Also: James Conner.
7. James Harrison
While several Steelers veterans won’t suit up this week, 39 year-old linebacker James Harrison will. Then after the game, keep an eye on his Instagram page for a video of of Harrison lifting the Steelers team bus and carrying it to Newark airport.
6. Antonio Brown
Brown is another Steelers big name who is scheduled to be in action. The key for him is to stay healthy and to make sure he doesn’t celebrate too much if he scores. You don’t waste your good gyrations in preseason. That’s Football Dancing 101.
5. All of the other receivers
Preseason games don’t matter much to receiver of Brown’s caliber, but there is heavy competition on the team for every spot behind him on the depth chart. We’ll see Darrius Heyward-Bey, Eli Rogers, Justin Hunter, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marcus Tucker and probably five to 10 more receivers the Steelers will sign before kickoff.
4. Fitzgerald Toussaint
The Steelers depth chart is out and the team’s No. 1 running back is … Fitzgerald Toussaint! Yes, Fitzgerald Toussaint, the guy whose fumble in the 2015 AFC Championship Game prevented the Steelers from winning a seventh Lombardi Trophy (I may be slightly simplifying the cause-and-effect) is the top back. Are the Steelers doomed because their best running back is Fitzgerald Toussaint? No. He’s just listed as No. 1 because: a) Bell still hasn’t shown up to camp; b) Conner has a slight shoulder injury; and c) preseason depth charts mean absolutely nothing, so why not throw Fitzgerald Toussaint up top.
It’s a fun name to say, it’s a fun name to put on a depth chart, it’s a fun name to type over and over in a column. Fitzgerald Toussaint.
Bell’s holdout, by the way, shouldn’t impact the regular season, but Steelers GM Kevin Colbert told the Post-Gazette he still isn’t happy about it.
“My feeling is there’s nothing to be gained by a holdout,’’ Colbert told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at the team’s training camp at Saint Vincent College. “The situation won’t change, it can’t really change from our part on a long-term deal. So it hurts him not to be here. It hurts him because he’s not working with his teammates, he’s not getting the conditioning work that he’s going to need to have a great 2017 season. And he’s not working with his teammates to get acclimated to the offense — every year it’s different.”
At least Bell’s working on his Snapchat game. That can’t hurt.
3. Mike Tomlin
This is Tomlin’s first game since signing a lucrative contract extension that will keep him with the Steelers through 2020. Don’t be surprised if you see him sporting the nicest crew neck sweatshirt money can buy.
2. The secondary
How the Steeler defense fairs this year against the pass — from the rush up front to the coverage on the back end — will go a long way in determining if the team goes a long way in the playoffs. The preseason games will provide a look at the work in progress. If the pass defense looks bad, I hereby reserve the right to repeatedly use this video with the caption: “Ben Roethlisberger throws into the Steelers secondary.”
1. Josh Dobbs
The 4th Round pick out of Tennessee will get the start and the bulk of the playing time at quarterback in the preseason opener because Roethlisberger is old and doesn’t need to play in stupid preseason games, and Landry Jones has an abdominal injury. So we’ll get our first look at Dobbs in live football action.
My prediction is that he will either look good against second and third stringers and we’ll all anoint him the next great Steelers quarterback, or he will struggle and we’ll all immediately declare him a bust and that the Steelers are doomed to decades of 2-14 seasons post-Roethlisberger. Either way, it will be a memorable night.