In last preseason game, a final audition for some Steelers
For those who think the Steelers-Carolina Panthers preseason game Thursday doesn't matter, try telling that to Landry Jones and Brad Wing, Justin Brown and Derek Moye, Wesley Johnson and Chris Carter.
The game's winner will be forgotten quickly, but the results of it will reverberate on the Steelers' roster for the rest of the season. As coach Mike Tomlin said, players play themselves onto rosters — and off them — every year in the final exhibition game.
“Sometimes you have to study the history of the game, and this series, for the men so they know they have a legitimate opportunity to help themselves,” Tomlin said. “Some of the examples of that opportunity are sitting in the room with them.”
And some might be gone by late Saturday afternoon.
It's the least important game of the preseason for a team but the most important for those trying to make it.
Quarterback: Jones, a fourth-round pick in 2013, still hasn't assured himself of being on the team. Tomlin suggests it's about time he did, and Jones could play the entire game.
“(He needs) consistent, above-the-line play, and that's about as straight an arrow I can fire,” Tomlin said.
Wide receiver: Moye played his way onto the team during last year's final preseason game against Carolina, but he might get caught up in a numbers crunch. Brown also has regressed a bit lately following a strong offseason and training camp. Darrius Heyward-Bey elevated himself with a three-catch game in Philadelphia and the former first round pick's willingness to play special teams.
“I'm doing a little bit of everything,” he said.
Offensive line: Johnson, a fifth-round pick, probably needs to show more because veteran Guy Whimper can play guard and tackle — a swingman's role the Steelers envisioned for Johnson. Johnson's best hope is if Mike Munchak convinces Tomlin to keep nine linemen.
Defensive line: Brett Keisel's return might have cost Brian Arnfelt a job. Undrafted rookie Josh Mauro is practicing and playing well, but he is undersized and a practice squad candidate. Daniel McCullers is too big and too promising to not keep.
Linebackers: Undrafted rookie Howard Jones keeps pushing for a job, and special teams (three fumble recoveries) might be his ticket.
“What they do on special teams is going to be a significant element in determining who sticks and who does not,” Tomlin said.
Carter played only two snaps in the first 14 games last season and is in jeopardy of being cut, and rookie Jordan Zumwalt's groin injury has set him back.
Secondary: Antwon Blake was one of the Steelers' better special teams players last season, and he must keep contributing. Rookie cornerback Shaq Richardson needs to show more, but he's not practicing because of a knee injury and might sit out.
Specialists: With Greg Warren (knee) still out, Bryce Davis is the only healthy long snapper. He needs to show he can handle game action, although the Steelers probably wouldn't have cut Luke Ingram had they thought Warren wouldn't be ready for the opener against the Cleveland Browns. Wing has been the only punter all summer, and this is another big test for him.
“One of the things that's impressive about him is during the course of the thing, when he's had negative days or negative drills, he always does a good job of responding to it,” Tomlin said. “That shows growth and the mental makeup that I desire.”