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Breakfast with Benz

Tim Benz: WR Damoun Patterson could be quality surprise for Steelers

| Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018, 6:27 a.m.
Pittsburgh Steelers’ Damoun Patterson, right, catches a touchdown pass next to Philadelphia Eagles’ Rasul Douglas during the first half of a preseason NFL football game Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Pittsburgh Steelers’ Damoun Patterson, right, catches a touchdown pass next to Philadelphia Eagles’ Rasul Douglas during the first half of a preseason NFL football game Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Quite a few young Steelers looking to earn either a roster spot or a higher notch on the depth chart flashed in the team's first preseason game against Philadelphia.

Ola Adeniyi had a strip sack. Cam Sutton grabbed an interception. Chukwuma Okorafor handled himself well in extended time at tackle.

But none stood out more than Damoun Patterson. The rookie receiver from Youngstown State had six catches for 77 yards and a touchdown.

"It's safe to say that you could characterize that as a positive first performance," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday.

Bold, coach. Don't step too far out on that ledge.

"Let's see if he can build on the positive of that performance," Tomlin said. "There was some negative in that performance as well that we aren't discussing."

To counter Tomlin's point, Patterson is being critical of some aspects of his own game.

He says he wasn't good enough on special teams. Nor was he aggressive enough coming back to the ball. A good example was when he was the intended target on Josh Dobbs' interception.

"I probably could've gotten attacked the ball more," Patterson said. "And on a deep ball Mason (Rudolph) targeted me on, I could've gotten more vertical. Technique things."

When I asked Tomlin about those self-critiques from Patterson, he agreed.

"And then some. Yes," Tomlin echoed.

That Tomlin is working so hard to tamp down the enthusiasm about Patterson is probably a good sign for him. The Steelers head coach isn't one to wallow in gushing over rookie "camp darlings." So the harder he is working to deadpan a highlight first game, the more, perhaps, he believes there was legitimacy to it.

For instance, I asked if Patterson was good enough for him to create a "two dogs, one bone" scenario with fellow rookie James Washington, like the one he manufactured to great success with Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown when they were young receivers over their first two years.

"The A.B. and Emmanuel Sanders story is only interesting because they became A.B. and Emmanuel. There are other aspects to that. There was Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown. You guys don't ask me about that 'two dogs, one bone,'" Tomlin said with a laugh.

Well, no coach. We were trying to be nice by allowing you to forget it ever happened.

Tomlin opened the door with Patterson potentially getting more reps with better position groups.

Responding to a question about Patterson and Adeniyi, Tomlin said: "Performing the way they performed gives you opportunities in some other groups. We'll see if that upward play in their trajectory continues as we give them some opportunities that they have earned."

That will have to continue to unfold in practices, though, as neither Ben Roethlisberger nor Landry Jones will play in the second preseason game.

That may be an effort to protect both top-tier quarterbacks from injury. Or it may be an effort to bubblewrap Jones for a potential trade if another team loses a quarterback. Or it may be to showcase Josh Dobbs for a deal.

More likely, a slice of all three.

Regardless, Patterson knows if he is to impress Tomlin enough to make the team, it's going to have to come in limited action he can find with the top groups.

"Last week, I got to go in there with Ben a few times in practice and I took advantage of them," Patterson said. "Once I do get thrown in there, I'll be prepared for it."

There should be jobs to be won on the roster at wide receiver for the Steelers. We know Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster will start. We know Washington will make the team.

But the Steelers seem determined to make him go the hard way up the ladder even though his performance in camp and the preseason game suggests he's no worse than third-best on this roster.

After that, it's the likes of an injured Eli Rogers, Justin Hunter, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Marcus Tucker. They all have likable depth qualities. I just don't know where it is written that any of them have to make this team in front of someone who may be the latest "Where did he come from?" receiver the Steelers tend to dig up.

Patterson looks like someone who could fit that mold.

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