Written By: Roy Countryman @PreacherBoyRoy
The Steelers kickstarted the season with a 30-28 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that culminated in a last-second stand on a two-point conversion. There was sloppy play on both sides, with over 25 penalties called in total, but keep in mind this was the first professional game for a lot of these players, so the quality of play should improve in the coming weeks. Here are the players whose stocks are up and down after the first week of action:
James Washington (WR)
Stats: 4 rec. on 5 targets, 84 yds, 21.0 ypc, 1 TD.
Washington displayed a renewed sense of confidence to his playing demeanor. He attacked the ball with ferocity on a deep ball that swung moment their way and even made a smooth back-shoulder catch for a TD off his ole’ college QB Rudolph.
Devin Bush (LB)
Stats: 10 Total Tackles (7 Solo)
Bush outshined fellow first-round LB Devin White in their preseason debut. Whereas White only accrued a single assist, Bush was flying around the field, evoking memories of a young Polamalu and even making a key stop to end a drive in the first half. A very impressive debut and I’m sure it won’t be his last.
Tyler Matakevich (LB)
Stats: 4 Total Tackles (4 Solo), 1 Sack, 1 FF.
“Dirty Red” showed why he is such a valued member of this team. He came in and directed the second-team defense from his ILB spot and was his usual self, always buzzing around the ball. He made a key strip-sack to cause a turnover that was recovered by debuting DL Isaiah Buggs.
Ulysees Gilbert (LB)
Stats: 2 Total Tackles (1 Solo), 1.5 Sacks, and 1 FF.
Gilbert flashed late in the game to seal off the victory for the Steelers in the preseason debut. He showed off his elite athleticism and speed in both run and pass defense, and also unleashed a lethal swim move to sack the QB. With his athleticism and standout performance, it puts him ahead of fellow draftee Sutton Smith, who sat out due to injury for the final LB roster spot at this time.
Johnny Holton (WR)
Stats: 2 rec. On 3 targets, 69 rec. Yds, 34.5 ypc, 2 KO ret for avg 22.5 yds.
Holton’s stats don’t show the real impact he had on this game. He made a couple of big-time grabs that led to scoring drives, flashed the speed and explosiveness that he's demonstrated in camp, and even chipping in on special teams. If he can repeat this kind of performance, he has a chance of securing a roster spot at the end of the WR depth chart, with an eye at contributing on special teams.
Honorable Mentions: Tuzar Skipper (OLB), Benny Snell (RB), Mason Rudolph (QB), Isaiah Buggs (DL), Chris Boswell (K)
This game was a little scattered at times, but the effort was evident throughout, and with more reps and experience in-game, there won’t be as many jitters come week two. That said, here are just a few players that had more uneven performances than outright bad weeks:
Stats: 5 Total Tackles (3 Solo)
Layne was one of those players feeling his way into the NFL. He was very timid on the first few drives, playing way off his assigned WR and allowing some first-down catches. He also made a few shoddy attempts at tackling in the open field as well, but when watching closer in the second half, it was clear he was starting to relax and play closer to the WR, where he excels as a press CB.
Stats: 2 rec. On 4 targets, 17 yds, 1 KO ret. for 35 yds, 4 PR for avg. of 13.0 yds.
I have been riding on the Spencer hype wagon ever since I saw him bolting around practice at camp, but he had a very uneven performance in week 1 of the preseason. He dropped a third-down pass that was very catchable, and the only real impact you saw from him was as a return man, where he will face a steep climb to a roster spot as a one-trick pony in that department.
Honorable Mention: Kevin Rader (TE)