The NFL Preseason gives us an idea of where teams stand entering the season. As for the Pittsburgh Steelers, here’s what we learned about their roster.
The Pittsburgh Steelers met the Dallas Cowboys in Canton, Ohio, to kick off Hall Of Fame week festivities as the classes of 2020 and 2021 are enshrined forever. In a commanding 16-3 victory, we saw some significant positives on the field that are certainly worth pointing out.
Why should we make a deal out of the preseason? Mike Florio, who runs the ProFootballTalk account on Twitter, made sure to post a very condescending message to all the young guys vying for roster spots. Known for his insufferable personality, it’s worth spending the time in this article to clarify why this information is important.
In-game repetitions can mean making an NFL roster and getting cut when rosters shrink down. This season will be the first year with only three preseason games per team (except for the Steelers and Cowboys, who will play three more after this) which means that the in-game reps have only become more valuable. It’s good to see what these young men can do in practice. However, when the pads come on, and everyone is going full speed, you see a whole lot more.
It’s up to these young players to capitalize on these reps to make their team. We’re going to spend more time talking about the depth that the roster shows rather than the stars – that’s what preseason is for.
Training Camp Battle: Cassius Marsh vs Alex Highsmith
The Pittsburgh Steelers have one of the best pass rushers in the NFL in TJ Watt, the brother of multiple NFL Defensive Player of the Year, JJ. While the Steelers played Bud Dupree to his opposite side last year, they could not retain him this offseason. Dupree took his payday in Tennessee and will suit up with the Titans.
That leaves an open starter role, considering that the Steelers didn’t address this need with a high-profile draft pick. Instead, they signed Cassius Marsh, the former Seattle Seahawk, and trusted their young developmental pick from last year, Alex Highsmith.
Watt has struggled to see the field early this camp period as he has dealt with lingering injuries. As a result, Highsmith and Marsh started as the edge rushers in the Steelers 3-4 scheme.
Marsh collected 4 tackles and a sack in the red zone on Garrett Gilbert. Highsmith, while only collecting three tackles, made two behind the line of scrimmage and also collected a sack. He looked much better prepared as a run defender than Marsh, who may be more of a situational pass rusher.
Add in the depth of the Steelers late-round pick, Quincy Roche, who also collected a sack last night, and the Steelers have four guys that they can rotate effectively on edge.
Dwayne Haskins will push for the backup role over Mason Rudolph
One of the sharp contrasts that we don’t normally see in the preseason was sharp quarterback play from all Steelers quarterbacks. Ben Roethlisberger, the starter, never took the field. In fact, he wasn’t dressed to.
Instead, Mason Rudolph got the start and was overall pretty solid in his performance. He missed a throw in the flat that would have been an easy touchdown and struggled with the drag route into the short left part of the field. He made a very nice 46-yard throw to Chase Claypool, which made up for most of his stat line.
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On the other hand, Haskins looked much better prepared than he ever was while playing for the Washington Football Team. He was quick and decisive all night, making confident decisions. At times, he flashed his athletic ability as well. The only problem I saw was an unwillingness to take downfield shots as Rudolph did – but he is still learning this offense.
The odd man out appears to be Josh Dobbs, who threw a touchdown in the fourth quarter to Anthony Johnson. Dobbs has been on the roster for a while, but his limited arm strength doesn’t bring the vertical ability that the Steelers will want to have. If they don’t place Dobbs on the practice squad, I’d imagine that he would get picked up quickly in a waiver in September.
Rookie Tre Norwood looks prepared to play the slot/nickel role
Steelers rookie Tre Norwood didn’t play much in the first quarter action, but his impact on the field was undoubtedly phenomenal. The Steelers allowed Steven Nelson to walk this offseason and go to the Philadelphia Eagles. That leaves them with veteran Joe Haden and Cameron Sutton to fill the blanks. Norwood appears slotted currently to be the nickel defender.
Norwood finished with a lone tackle and an impressive break on the football that forced the Cowboys to settle for a field goal in the red zone. While covering Cowboys receiver Malik Turner, Turner attempted to run a double move “pivot” route. Turner ran inside as if he was running a drag before cutting a full 180 and running for the corner. Norwood changed direction quickly and used his burst to break on the throw and knock it away.
Najee Harris made the Pittsburgh Steelers look smart for picking him
Najee Harris is primed to be a star this season for the Pittsburgh Steelers. When he was drafted with their first-round pick this past May, many fans and analyst’s criticized the move. Many believed that Harris wasn’t the pick they needed, and they went with star power over needs. Fortunately, the Steelers understand that they acquire the best players available and fit them into their scheme.
Harris’ stat line wasn’t the most impressive as he was stopped for a loss a couple of times, running 7 times for 21 yards. He caught his lone target for 3 yards. However, what was clear is that Harris is a three-down back. That’s what the Steelers have been best performing with in the past. He did an outstanding job finding his blocking assignments and creating space in the pocket for Rudolph to throw. His tough running style, combined with his athletic receiving ability, will make him a valuable weapon for this offense in 2021.
Pressley Harvin III shined in his punting action
It’s not often that we talk about a punter after a preseason game, but it’s impossible to ignore the talent that Pressley Harvin III showed in his first NFL action. The rookie seventh-round pick out of Georgia Tech did an incredible job in his early action.
Harvin punted 4 times in the action for an average of 45.8 yards per kick. His first punt perfectly checked up inside the one and allowed the Steelers to pin the Cowboys in an uncomfortable situation. His last kick in the fourth quarter bounced off the return man and was recovered by the Steelers. Overall, three of his four punts held the opposition inside of their own twenty-yard line.