Written By: Roy Countryman @PreacherBoyRoy
The Steelers come into this matchup with an undefeated record at 3-0 and were looking to keep the momentum flowing toward the regular season. Regrettably though, due to some inconsistent play by some of the bottom of the roster players they fell to the Panthers to end the preseason at 3-1. Everyone hates the preseason, but this game can be summed up with one word...STATEMENT! If you are one of those bottom of the roster players this is your final opportunity to make a statement to not only make this roster but possibly one of the other 31 in the league so without further ado, here are the players whose stocks are up and down after the first week of action:
Tuzar Skipper (OLB)
Stats: 8 Total Tackles (4 Solo), 2 Sacks, 1 TFL, 1 FF, 1 QB Hit.
We start this list off with Skipper who has transformed himself from the little known end of the roster player to preseason superstar and pass-rushing extraordinaire. As I said in the opening game 4 of the preseason is all about making a statement, and all Skipper did was put up a highlight reel of plays as a pass rusher, in run defense, and even as a kamikaze on kickoff coverage teams. With this performance, he has cemented himself as a member of the 53 man roster, and I wouldn’t want to risk losing him trying to sneak him onto the practice squad.
Mason Rudolph (QB)
Stats: 7/11, 125 yds, 11.4 Avg, 1 TD.
Rudolph is a changed man in his second season. There has been an open competition for the backup QB job this preseason, but only in the sense in that, it hasn’t been announced that he has won the job. Rudolph is confident and it shows when he steps onto the field. You are starting to see that flashes of his deep throwing prowess that showed at Oklahoma State, and with the chance to apprentice under Big Ben for the next few seasons and a QB in Dobbs behind him, the QB room is in good hands this season.
Ulysees Gilbert III (LB)
Stats: 3 Total Tackles, 1 Blocked FG.
Gilbert’s rise to preseason stardom has only been overshadowed by the fact that Tuzar Skipper has been dominating anyone who stands across from him, but that is not to discount Gilbert’s efforts. We all know the athleticism and range that he was known for coming out of Akron, but it is his play recognition and savviness that has impressed me this preseason, and he is one of those players that is always around the ball when something good happens. He flashed on special teams on this one by getting skinny through FG protection and getting a hand up to block the impressive Panthers kicker, Slye.
Johnny Holton (WR)
Stats: 3 rec. On 3 targets, 86 yds, 28.7 Avg, 44 Long, 1 TD, and 1 Tackle.
Holton had a solid training camp but then had some uneven showings through the first three preseason games. This performance though flashed why he should be given solid consideration for the #6 WR roster spot. He was routinely used as a gunner on special teams, and with the unfortunate injury to rookie CB, Justin Layne (Severity not known yet), it places him square in the focus of having a key role there going into the season. On offense, he showed off his 4.4 speed by getting behind DBs, including an impressive late 1st bomb from Mason Rudolph for a TD.
Honorable Mentions: Sutton Smith (OLB), Artie Burns (CB), Henry Mondeaux (DE), Jordan Berry (P), Devin Bush (LB), Jayrone Elliott (OLB).
Jerald Hawkins (OT)
Hawkins has been behind playing from behind the proverbial eight ball all preseason, due to him coming back off a major knee injury, and his main competition (Zach Banner) coming into camp in tremendous shape. He has long arms and had good athleticism pre-injury, but you can tell he still is working his way back to peak shape and really struggled in this game with speed whether at LT or RT and was lucky to only be penalized once for holding. One thing working against him from staying with the organization is that he is ineligible to be placed onto the practice squad.
Zach Gentry (TE) and Kevin Rader (TE)
Gentry Stats: 1 rec. On 2 targets, 1 yd, and 1 Solo Tackle on ST.
Rader Stats: None
One of the big questions going into this final preseason game was about the TE position, and Gentry and Rader were right in the middle of the focus as to whether they could step up and answer the bell as the #3 TE this season. They both had their moments run blocking where they were solid, but as pass catchers, they were basically non-existent. Gentry looks like a plodding, middle of the road athlete with soft hands, but he needs more work on technique in the blocking department, and Rader although more athletic than Gentry doesn’t seem to get the same opportunities afforded to him as his teammate to flash his skill set as a pass-catcher. He is a solid blocker though. Without either one of these young players stepping up, it will force GM, Kevin Colbert to look outside the organization for reinforcements, and hope to possibly sneak one of these players onto the practice squad to give them a year to develop.
Honorable Mention: Benny Snell (RB), Zach Banner (OT), Justin Layne (CB).
Roster Projection (Listed in order of stature on Depth Chart)
QB(3): Roethlisberger, Rudolph, Dobbs
RB(4): Conners, Samuels, Snell, Tr. Edmunds
WR(6): Smith-Schuster, Moncrief, Washington, Switzer, D.Johnson, Holton
TE(2): McDonald, Grimble
OT(4): Villanueva, Feiler, Okorafor, Banner
OG(2): DeCastro, Foster
C(2): Pouncey, Finney
DL(6): Heyward, Tuitt, Hargrave, Alualu, Buggs, McCullers
OLB(5): Watt, Dupree, Chickillo, Skipper, Adeniyi
ILB(5): Bush, V.Williams, Barron, Matakevich, Gilbert
CB(5): Haden, Nelson, Hilton, Sutton, Burns
S(4): Te. Edmunds, Davis, Kelly, Dangerfield
Total: 52 Players
Justin Layne (CB) will be placed on Season-Ending IR, after suffering an injury in the final preseason game.
Player #53 will be an outside acquisition to the TE position.
Ola Adeniyi (OLB) had surgery to repair a meniscus injury to his knee, and will be placed on IR, with the intent on returning.
With Adeniyi getting placed on IR, there will be another roster spot open which the team most likely will use on an additional defensive back, which could come from within or more likely from the cuts around the league.
Practice Squad (11 roster spots due to International Pathway Program)
OLB: Sutton Smith (2019 6th Round Pick)
TE: Zach Gentry (2019 5th Round Pick)
OG: Fred Johnson
DE: Henry Mondeaux
DE: Casey Sayles
S: Marcus Allen (2018 5th Round Pick)
LB: Robert Spillane
C: Patrick Morris
CB: Marcelis Branch
WR: Trey Griffey
TE: Christian Scotland-Williamson (IPP)
Stay Humble, and be a Blessing!