It is the first preseason game. There is a certain amount of excitement which accompanies the first football game of the year, even if it is a meaningless exhibition. However, if you haven’t been glued to the Pittsburgh Steelers training camp at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, PA, but want to know who to keep an eye on in the game Friday night, we’ve got you covered.
Here are 5 offensive players to keep an eye on in the game at Heinz Field. Keep in mind the focus of this task was based on the players who will still see significant playing time despite it being the first preseason game.
Sammie Coates – WR – No. 14
There is a massive amount of anticipation surrounding Sammie Coates. After a rookie season which saw him inactive more than active on game days, he had a tremendous performance in the AFC Divisional round against the Denver Broncos. However, that was just one game. Now, Coates has had a very solid training camp to date, and looks to step in and help fill the void vacated by suspended Martavis Bryant. He still has some consistency issues, but Friday night should see him get plenty of repetitions and targets as he prepares for a bigger role in 2016.
Landry Jones – QB – No. 3
In 2015 Mike Tomlin suggested no quarterback has ever played as many snaps as Landry Jones did in the preseason. He might be right, but Jones still has a lot to prove in 2016, and will likely see a great deal of repetitions in the 2016 preseason. The Steelers are hoping Jones, or Bruce Gradkowski, will step up and be the team’s true No. 2 quarterback, and Jones will have his chance with the starters for the first game on Friday night.
Jesse James – TE – No. 81
With news of Ladarius Green and his health issues being the hot topic surrounding Steelers fans, Friday night fans should focus on Jesse James at tight end. The Penn State product was a pleasant surprise as a rookie in 2015, but has he evolved into an every down player? Only time will tell, and Friday night against the Lions will be the first step. Look for James not just as a receiving threat, but watch him in the trenches in both pass blocking and run blocking. That is where his true maturation will have to show.
Alejandro Villanueva – OT – No. 78
The battle for starting left tackle rages on, and Alejandro Villanueva looks as if he is the man to beat for the job. Villanueva and Ryan Harris are in a very heated competition for the right to protect the blindside of the quarterback, and every snap of the preseason will matter in this competition. Villanueva will most likely start the game, but how he performs will be the test of whether he continues to start games. Keep an eye on the man they call ‘Big Al’ early and often.
Eli Rogers – WR – No. 17
The Steelers have an opening on their depth chart for their 5th WR spot. Most likely, the player to win this battle will not just be able to play the slot on offense, but also handle return duties. Eli Rogers has been taking advantage of the opportunities coming his way and will look to continue his progression on Friday night in Week 1 of the preseason. Keep an eye on Rogers as a receiver, but especially on Rogers as a return man, both kickoff and punt return duties. This is where the job will likely be won, or lost.