Steelers notebook: Offensive line features backups in preseason opener
PHILADELPHIA — The first-team offense that Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin trotted out for the preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles included only two regulars on the offensive line.
All-Pro guard David DeCastro and Pro Bowl left tackle Alejandro Villanueva started, but center Maurkice Pouncey and right tackle Marcus Gilbert were rested Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field.
With Ramon Foster sitting out because of a bone bruise on his right knee, Matt Feiler started at left guard, and B.J. Finney moved from left guard to center. Rookie third-round draft pick Chuks Okorafor started in place of Gilbert.
When the second-team offense entered late in the first quarter, Okorafor moved to left tackle. Finney shifted to right guard.
Pouncey missed a few plays in practice Tuesday because of an injury, but he was in uniform and took part in pregame warmups. His uniform was off, however, when he returned to the field for introductions.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown were scratched Tuesday by Tomlin.
Sitting out on defense were lineman Cameron Heyward and cornerback Joe Haden. Tyson Alualu replaced Heyward, and Coty Sensabaugh got the nod for Haden. Another starter of significance was Jon Bostic at inside linebacker, another sign that he has moved past Tyler Matakevich on the depth chart.
Rules are meant to be broken
Several of the new rules changes came into play in the first half, and three infractions were against the Steelers special teams.
On the kickoff following JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 71-yard touchdown reception, James Conner was called for being offsides. Players no longer can get a running start and must line up within a yard of the kick. Conner apparently got too early of a head start.
After the Eagles scored a touchdown in the second quarter, the Steelers were called for an illegal formation when a player lined up over the long snapper, a no-no under the new rules. The Eagles accepted the penalty and went for the 2-point conversion, with Wendell Smallwood running in for an 8-7 lead. The Steelers were flagged for the same infraction late in the half after the Eagles’ second touchdown. The Eagles went for a the 2-point conversion again, but were stopped that time.
Eagles cornerback Sidney Jones was hit with a 15-yard penalty for leading with his helmet on a tackle against Steelers rookie receiver Damoun Patterson.
Field of study
In Randy Fichtner’s first game as Steelers offensive coordinator, he decided to make his play calls from the field.
Last season, former offensive coordinator Todd Haley experimented in the preseason with calling plays from the booth but decided to stay on the field for the regular season.
When he was the team’s quarterback coach, Fichtner typically watched the game from the coaching booth, but he spent the last half of the 2017 season on the sidelines at Roethlisberger’s request.
A familiar name was in the linebacker huddle during warmups, although he wasn’t wearing a uniform.
Ryan Shazier joined the linebackers for their pregame ritual with Vince Williams standing in the middle of the circle.
Shazier continues to be a constant presence around the Steelers as he rehabilitates his spinal-cord injury that will keep him out for the 2018 season.
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.