The Pittsburgh Steelers kicked off the 2021 NFL preseason with a 16-3 victory against the Dallas Cowboys in Canton, Ohio. After spring rookie camp, OTA’s, minicamp, and about a week of training camp, this was our first look at how those practice sessions translated into play. Of course, we understand we wouldn’t see any main starters on the field, but we were able to get a glimpse of what to expect with the new offense and new additions to the team. With us now being officially in the Philadelphia Eagles game week, what are a few things to watch for in practice leading up to the second preseason game? Well, here is what I’m watching for:
Inside Linebacker Preparation
We can assume Devin Bush will regain his starting spot at “mike” inside linebacker in the regular season. We can also assume that we won’t see Bush until the final preseason game, if at all this preseason. With that said, there is still one spot at ILB that is undecided. On the current depth chart, Robert Spillane is the listed starter. However, Spillane looked lost on some plays against Dallas and was beat in coverage on multiple occasions. Behind him we wee Ulysees Gilbert III who is coming off an injury-riddled 2020 season and is looking to earn a starting role. But we saw Gilbert III miss a few stops in the game and looked to lack the initial game speed to be a starter. With that said, I’m looking for rookie Buddy Johnson to shine as he competes for the starting spot. Johnson only tallied one tackle in the Hall of Fame Game, but it came in the form of blowing up a screen play in the backfield. Johnson has had a strong camp so far, but has mostly played on the second team. Johnson may see action with the first team this week in practice in preparation for the game on Thursday to help propel him to the starting role with Bush.
Continued Offensive Line Improvement
Steelers fans will most likely see different offensive line combinations throughout the preseason. New offensive line coach Adrian Klemm looks to be doing an effective job in face-lifting the offensive line and bringing a new attitude into the trenches. The unit as a whole did not allow a single sack against Dallas in the entire game and did a great job in opening holes for the running game. In practice this week, I’m looking at rookies Dan Moore Jr. and Kendrick Green to keep developing into starters. In addition, I’m watching the competition at the starting left offensive guard position. Presumed starter, second-year man Kevin Dotson, has found himself in head coach Mike Tomlin’s doghouse. After Sunday’s practice, Tomlin explained, “He (Dotson) has done nothing to earn first-team reps. What are we talking about? He’s a second-year guy who hasn’t worked.” This week’s game preparation will be critical for Dotson to get back on Tomlin’s good side and back into first team reps. It appears Dotson isn’t too worried about it:
When he says I haven’t worked I legit have not been practicing ,out with a injury .sounds weird when read on Twitter 😂😂😂 https://t.co/Z3MhIVmU5x
— Steelersfan696969 (@kdd7696) August 8, 2021
Quarterback Depth Competition
First, Ben Roethlisberger is the starting quarterback in 2021. I am watching what is happening behind him at the second and third string spots. Mason Rudolph is still listed at QB2 and looked adequate against Dallas, going 6 for 9 attempts for 84 yards, and finishing with a 96.5 quarterback rating. Josh Dobbs went 4 for 6 for 37 yards, tossed the only touchdown pass of the game, and ended with a 122.9 quarterback rating. Meanwhile, new fan favorite Dwayne Haskins went 8 for 13 for 54 yards and had a team-low 70.7 quarterback rating. In camp, we’ve seen Haskins and Rudolph rotate with the second team and the second-string quarterback role looks to still be up for grabs. Although Rudolph had a mediocre stat line, he (literally) dropped the ball on a wide receiver sweep which was ultimately recovered by Dallas. Rudolph seemed to look out of place in new offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s offense, where Haskins and Dobbs both led scoring drives in the second half. This week in practice, I’m looking for Haskins to make a larger case for himself for the QB2 role, and start to separate himself from Rudolph as the first Roethlisberger replacement.
What are you looking for at practice this week? Let us know in the comments below!