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Preseason Opener Provides Opportunity

2017 Preseason Game #1

Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0) at New York Giants (0-0) Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 – 7 p.m. ET MetLife Stadium – East Rutherford, N.J.

Television: KDKA/NFL Network (Bob Pompeani, Charlie Batch, Missi Matthews)

Radio: Steelers Radio Network/102.5 WDVE-FM (Bill Hillgrove, Tunch Ilkin, Craig Wolfley)

All-Time Preseason Series: Giants lead, 15-13

Last Preseason Meeting: 2014 (East Rutherford) – Giants 20, Steelers 16

The Pittsburgh Steelers and their fans will get their first look at 2017 NFL Draft selections T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Joshua Dobbs on Friday (Aug. 11) as the preseason begins against the host New York Giants at MetLife Stadium.

With head coach Mike Tomlin declaring Ben Roethlisberger a healthy scratch and Landry Jones dealing with an abdominal injury that has kept him out of practice, Dobbs will get the ball as Pittsburgh’s starting quarterback in his first-ever preseason game.

“I am anxious to compete,” said Dobbs, whom the Steelers selected out of Tennessee in the fourth round of this year’s draft with the 135th overall pick. “I enjoy competing at a high level. Whether it’s a preseason game or in season game, you are playing in the NFL and it’s something I dreamt about for a long time. To be on that stage with the opportunity to compete, I am very thankful for that and ready to go out and compete at a high level. I am ready to go, ready to compete.”

Dobbs set school records for career rushing yards by a quarterback (2,160), career rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (32), single season rushing yards by a quarterback (831 in 2016) and single-season rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (12 in 2016) and ranked fifth in Tennessee history in career passing yards (7,138). He has shown an ability to make plays with his feet during training camp, but his accuracy as a passer needs to improve if he hopes to provide the Steelers with a long-term answer to the elephant in the room — the eventual end of the Roethlisberger era in Pittsburgh, whenever that may come.

“He’s a bright-eyed willing worker,” said Tomlin of Dobbs. “He appears to learn from mistakes, and I thinks that’s good. He also appears to be able to learn from the mistakes of others, and that’s doubly good. Like a lot of things, we won’t know until we get into a stadium. At that position, you’re defined by how you perform under certain circumstances, and it’ll be good to get him in that stadium on Friday night and watch him in terms of putting his skills on display. This is just the first time out. I’m interested in his game day demeanor, his ability to communicate through circumstances, not only with his fellow players but with his coaches as well.”

Dobbs will look to connect with a fellow rookie in Smith-Schuster, whom the Steelers selected in the second round with the 62nd overall pick out of USC. He totaled 213 receptions for 3,092 yards with 25 touchdown receptions for the Trojans and will aim to follow in the footsteps of his former athletics director, Lynn Swann, who came to the Steelers from USC and earned a place at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“We came in together,” said Smith-Schuster of the bond between himself and Dobbs. “We have more chemistry, just because we came in together in rookie camp and OTAs and training camp. It’s going to be a fun game.”

Watt, whom Pittsburgh made its first-round selection with the 30th overall pick out of Wisconsin, will also suit up for the first time as a Steeler and has seen plenty of work at right outside linebacker in training camp as Tomlin works to preserve 15th-year stalwart James Harrison for the regular season. Watt recorded 11.5 sacks in 2016 — the fifth-most in a single season in school history — and was named first-team All-American by ESPN.com and Sports Illustrated for his efforts.

“He appears to be a one-rep learner,” said Tomlin of Watt. “He’s a quick study. He’s got a great deal of urgency. He’s highly conditioned. I think that helps in the development process. It allows him to absorb a large number of stats, and that’s helpful to him and helpful to us.”

A plethora of training camp injuries will provide some of Pittsburgh’s other youngsters with an opportunity at valuable reps.

Second-year backup offensive lineman B.J. Finney will get the start at center as Maurkice Pouncey (leg) deals with an injury while fourth-year backup Chris Hubbard has seen significant work at left tackle with starter Alejandro Villanueva in concussion protocol. Starting left inside linebacker Ryan Shazier has been out with a hamstring injury, which will open the door for L.J. Fort (third year) Tyler Matakevich (second year) to get valuable reps on Friday. A knee injury to cornerback Artie Burns will provide Coty Sensabaugh and Mike Hilton with an opportunity. The Steelers acquired Sensabaugh, a sixth-year NFL vet, in free agency. Hilton, who went undrafted in 2016 and spent part of last year on Pittsburgh’s practice squad has been dubbed a camp phenom and has led the secondary in both interceptions and pass breakups during camp.

Friday’s game could even prove critical in the case for making the 53-man roster to fourth-year running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, who will get the start with Le’Veon Bell holding out and rookie James Conner still working his way back from a minor AC joint sprain in his left shoulder.

Fans might grumble about preseason games, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has even recently suggested the schedule should be reduced from four games to three or even two. But for the Steelers mentioned above, Friday’s contest could go a long way in both their development and even their chances of keeping their NFL careers alive.

“I have had an appreciation for the preseason going all the way back to my position coach days,” said Tomlin.” I am a lover of football. I believe all of these guys here working have a legitimate chance. The preseason games give them the opportunity to put those skills on display. Not only for us, but for the other 31 teams. This process that is team development, division of labor and team building, I have a lot of respect for and I think the preseason games are a big part of it.”

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