Kevin Gorman’s Take 5: Devin Bush’s debut, QBs highlight Steelers’ victory in preseason opener
You know it’s only the NFL preseason when there are more fans in their seats at Heinz Field at the start of the second half than for the opening kickoff.
Then again, there might have been more fans in their seats after the 2018 season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals than for the start of the 2019 preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Of course, they stayed to watch the conclusion of the Cleveland-Baltimore game on the Jumbotron, an outcome that could push the Steelers into the playoffs or send them into the offseason.
I think there were more fans in the stands at Heinz Field AFTER the #Steelers 2018 season finale to watch Browns-Ravens finish than for the START of their 2019 preseason opener against Tampa Bay. pic.twitter.com/6OIOcDJK8Q
— Kevin Gorman (@KGorman_Trib) August 9, 2019
So forgive my preseason form on the first Take 5 of the Steelers’ season.
This was the first chance to see the Steelers’ rookies play in a game setting. The good news: Their first-round pick didn’t disappoint in his NFL debut, as the Steelers beat the Bucs, 30-28, before an announced crowd of 45,396.
1. Believe in Bush: It didn’t take long for rookie Devin Bush to make an impact, as the No. 10 overall pick started alongside Mark Barron at inside linebacker and made four stops on Tampa Bay’s opening drive.
Bush shined on the second drive, making back-to-back big plays that proved pivotal. On third-and-9 at the Steelers 25, he stopped tight end Tanner Hudson a yard short of the first-down marker. On fourth-and-1, he joined outside linebacker Ola Adeniyi to stuff Andre Ellington for no gain at the 17 and force a turnover on downs.
— Jordan Reid (@JReidNFL) August 9, 2019
Bush played the entire first half, recording 10 tackles (seven solo). He also had a couple of passes completed that were thrown over his head. And he could have had a pick-six on a pass he broke up.
But Bush looked like a natural, not an NFL rookie.
2. Third-and-Dobbs: Josh Dobbs got the starting nod at quarterback, and his first pass was a 43-yard completion to a wide-open James Washington at midfield.
But that drive ended when Dobbs overthrew Tevin Jones on third-and-12, forcing a punt. After that, Dobbs was mostly electric on third downs.
After a 16-yard sack and an interception negated by defensive holding, Dobbs appeared to be struggling. Then, on a third-and-21 from the 10, he found Washington over the middle for a 22-yard gain.
Josh Dobbs may be building some chemistry with James Washington. Converts a 3rd and 21 here. pic.twitter.com/71RW01qig9
— Jordan Dajani (@JordanDajani) August 10, 2019
On third-and-4 at the 38, Dobbs darted right for an 8-yard run and another first down. After a holding penalty, he completed a 9-yard pass to set up a third-and-9 and sprinted 36 yards to the Tampa Bay 17.
Dobbs completed 5 of 8 passes for 85 yards and ran twice for 44 yards, making up for two sacks for minus-24 yards. His passing looked sharper than he has in practice.
And the battle for the backup quarterback job became an even bigger storyline.
3. Rudolph shines: After watching Dobbs deliver, Mason Rudolph was not to be outdone.
The second-year quarterback, who spent last season as the third-stringer, threw a pair of touchdown passes.
The first was a beautiful back-shoulder throw to former Oklahoma State teammate Washington for an 8-yard score late in the second quarter. That completed a seven-play, 64-yard drive that gave the Steelers a 10-7 lead.
— NFL (@NFL) August 10, 2019
The second followed a 59-yard catch-and-run by Johnny Holton, as Rudolph found rookie tight end Zach Gentry for a 3-yard score to complete a three-play, 65-yard drive early in the third quarter for a 20-10 lead.
4. Boz is back: Steelers coach Mike Tomlin promised to put his placekickers in pressure situations throughout training camp and the preseason.
Chris Boswell got his chances early, converting a 33-yard field goal from the right hash to cut it to 7-3 at 6:58 of the second quarter.
But the more impressive kick came late in the first half, when he lined up for a 47-yarder from the left hash. He drilled it right down the middle.
But Buccaneers kicker Matt Gay, a rookie from Utah, stole the show at the end of the second quarter when he booted a 55-yarder as time expired.
— Chris Cato FOX 13 (@chriscato) August 10, 2019
5. Quick hits: Chuks Okorafor started at left tackle but had a rough night, as the 2018 third-rounder missed a block on Rakeem Nunez-Roches’ 16-yard sack of Dobbs and later drew a holding penalty on the same drive. … A reminder that rookie Benny Snell, a fourth-round pick from Kentucky, was running behind a backup offensive line. But he ran for only 20 yards on nine carries, with a long of 5 yards in the first half. … What didn’t help Snell’s cause was watching as Jaylen Samuels replaced him on a third-and-1 at the Tampa Bay 30, using a hesitation move before breaking off a 22-yard run to set up Rudolph’s touchdown pass to Washington. … Johnny Holton had the play of the game, spinning away from two Bucs defenders on the 59-yard pass play.
Johnny Holton won't go down!
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) August 10, 2019
Cornerback Justin Layne, a third-round pick from Michigan State, struggled in his first series. He allowed a pair of 11-yard completions by Jameis Winston, then whiffed on an open-field tackle attempt on Chris Godwin on his 9-yard touchdown pass. … Training camp phenom Devlin “Duck” Hodges, the undrafted quarterback from Samford, led an eight-play, 76-yard scoring drive capped by his 8-yard touchdown pass to Tevin Jones early in the fourth quarter. What didn’t help Hodges’ chances was the play of Dobbs and Rudolph.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .