Written By: Roy Countryman @PreacherBoyRoy
The Steelers come into this matchup with the Titans riding high off two victories and a number of young players flashing, but this week was all about getting eyes on the starters. They did not disappoint and it didn't take long for them to get in enough work to allow those equally impressive younger players take the field so without further ado here are the players whose stocks are up and down after the first week of action:
Tuzar Skipper (OLB)
Stats: 4 Total Tackles (4 Solo), 1 Sack, 1 TFL, 1 FF, 1 QB Hits.
Tuzar Skipper leads this list off this week because all this man has done this preseason is riding a wave of momentum and strong play into a roster spot in my opinion. His strength and shedding ability is evident on tape. He has shown that he can make effective plays both in run defense and as a pass rusher, including a strip-sack this game.
Mason Rudolph (QB)
Stats: 6/9, 75 yds, 8.3 Avg, 1 TD, 1 INT.
In this contest, Rudolph came out firing, including an impressive deep post to his long-time friend James Washington for a TD. His INT came on a miscommunication play where Washington failed to continue his route, and Rudolph threw the pass where he anticipated him to be if he had. Embattled in competition with Joshua Dobbs for the backup role this season it has been his confidence and poise that has given him the inside track for the job going into the last preseason contest. He looks like he is a completely different player than the wet behind the ears QB we saw last season.
JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR)
Stats: 4 rec. On 5 targets, 37 yds, 9.3 Avg, 1 TD.
Our first time getting to see Big Ben and JuJu on the field together did not disappoint. We haw Ben connect with JuJu on a beautiful deep post pattern to put the ball in a perfect position for his new #1 target to score. With childlike exuberance and energy, not many can match JuJu gravitas on the field, and he is staring right in the eyes of a breakout season as the Alpha WR on this team.
Stephon Tuitt (DE)
Stats: 2 Tackles (2 Solo), 2 Sacks, 2 TFL, 2 QB Hits.
Stephon Tuitt was wreaking havoc on the Titans OL, using strong hand usage, and power to bully his way into the backfield with ease. If this talented big man can stay healthy for an entire season he and his running mates along the DL look to build upon last seasons 20 Sacks amongst the DL and add to this up and coming defense that has the makings of a championship-caliber team.
James Conner (RB)
Stats: 5 carries, 41 rush yds, 8.2 Avg, 2 rec. On 2 targets, 15 rec. yds.
Conner is in the best shape of his career, and you can see he is ready to shoulder a workhorse load this season. He showed good vision, patience, quickness through the hole, and power to always fall forward. Even more impressive is his improving pass-catching prowess and ability to glide after the catch as well as his ability to stonewall defenders in pass protection.
Cameron Heyward (DT)
Stats: 4 Total Tackles (4 Solo), 1 Sack, 1 TFL, 1 QB Hit.
Heyward seems like he is ready to add a third straight pro bowl selection to his career with this impressive showing. His power, quickness, hand usage, leverage, and football instincts allow him to always be around the ball and in this game he and smash brother Tuitt were wreaking havoc along the interior DL.
Honorable Mentions: Robert Spillane (LB), Ulysees Gilbert III (LB), James Washington(WR), Kameron Kelly (S), T.J. Watt (OLB), Diontae Spencer (WR).
Josh Dobbs (QB)
Stats: 4/9, 79 pass yds, 8.8 Avg, 1 INT, 5 carries for 10 yards.
Dobbs did not have a terrible game, but rather just an uneven performance. He made some nice plays with his legs in escaping pressure, getting outside of the pocket and delivering some nice passes, but it is his continual struggles with short accuracy and touch that leads to some poor passes. He has great moxie and poise and is a well documented intelligent player, it is just right now I see Rudolph as having the lead in the clubhouse for the backup job.
Zach Gentry (TE)
Stats: 1 rec. On 2 targets, 15 yds.
Gentry seemed to have a rough game in this one, and it concluded with him tipping a pass that went for Dobbs’ INT. He had a few plays where defenders simply went through or around him in the blocking department as well. Gentry is a quality athlete who has intriguing pass-catching talents but needs a lot of coaching and seasoning in technique and as a blocker. He seems to be a quality option for the practice squad, and I would not be surprised to see the Steelers add a veteran TE who gets cut when final cuts take place around the league.
Honorable Mention: Vance McDonald (TE), Trevon Mathis (CB), Eli Rogers (WR).
Ryan Switzer’s roster spot is locked! He will be the starting Slot WR on this team, and the de facto KR/PR on this team unless the dynamic Diontae Spencer makes the team as a return man.
Bud Dupree’s improvement in pursuit angles is Legit! If this is the type of player we are going to see this season we may be in store for that breakout season finally!
This team’s Defense has legitimate speed and athleticism on all three levels, and they have a real chance of being a Top 5 defense this year if the majority of players stay healthy.
Kameron Kelly is the 3rd Saftey on defense, and he has secured a roster spot. What a great story from decorated AAF player to now a key contributor to this defense.
Keep an eye this week for an updated 53 man/practice squad projection as we seem to finally be getting a grasp on who will be a part of the team this season…
Stay Humble, and be a Blessing!