The Pittsburgh Steelers will complete their preseason schedule Thursday night at home against the Carolina Panthers. This is the twelfth consecutive year the teams have met for the final preseason game. Only the hardest of die-hard fans actually can take pleasure in watching the final preseason game of the season. The game typically features more backups than starters and is the game that least contributes to the outlook for the team for the regular season. What the final preseason game does help determine, however, is how the 53-man roster will shake up as the coaches will be looking to those backups on the field to determine who will comprise of the twenty-two players who will be cut from the roster by Saturday afternoon.
The Steelers will start Landry Jones at quarterback against the Panthers, and a lot of people are suggesting that he may be playing for his roster spot. Jones was drafted last year in the fourth round and has only really contributed some either so-so or god awful preseason performances to the team. If he can come out and prove to be an adequate backup he might save his spot on the roster. If he takes a ton of sacks, turns the ball over, or hasn’t shown that he’s learned anything by playing under Ben Roethlisberger for a whole year the Steelers might just be better off giving that roster spot to another position that might be thinner. The Steelers only ever dressed two quarterbacks for each game last year and Ben played every single snap.
Brett Keisel is expected to see a lot of action against the Panthers coming off of rejoining the team last week. Coach Tomlin spoke about Keisel being open to his role changing with the team and that can mean that he would be expected to back up either side of the defensive line. Surely he can provide examples for younger players like Stephon Tuitt and Daniel McCullers to follow and if he, by his play, can force a competition for reps or starts, it means the defensive line is doing a good job. I love Keisel as much as the next Steelers fan but I wouldn’t realistically want him taking reps away from the younger guys that would keep them from developing the way they need to.
Darrius Heyward-Bey is apparently in the mix as afar as being considered as someone who can contribute on special teams and that will be where you can watch for in the preseason finale. At his stage in his career, as a former first-round pick, it’s good to see that he can be realistic about what he can and can’t contribute to the team and if he realizes his ticket to a roster spot is special teams then I hope he can excel at that. Not only that he can potentially return but also block and cover kicks as well.
Most importantly what Steeler Nation can watch for in this preseason finale is how the team finishes up the exhibition season. Not that the final score actually matters or counts for anything, however, if the team gets shellacked like they did against Philadelphia, even with backups in for starters that doesn’t bode well going into Week 1. The players you’ll see on the field against Carolina tonight will, at some point, see regular season playing time and they have to be able to execute and not make the kinds of mistakes that were displayed against the Eagles. You can say the preseason doesn’t matter all you want but there is definite value in ending on a high note.
Here we go Steelers! Here we go!