Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin noted with limited practice time this week going into the final preseason game Thursday night, this is the final chance for some players to “state a case” for themselves.
With outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (AC sprain in chest), running back Le’Veon Bell (right mid-foot sprain), tight end Heath Miller (right knee) and running back Isaac Redman (stinger) declared out this week and the starters playing as little as possible, backups will be the focus when the Steelers take on the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
“We obviously have a lot of backs that we need to sort through, and we know what (Redman) is capable of,” Tomlin said. “So, we’re going to look at some of those others, like Stephens-Howling, Jonathan Dwyer and, of course, the newly acquired Felix Jones. But that could be said about a lot of positions.”
Redman said that while he would like to be the starter and play to help distance himself from the other guys, he realized that was a tough task after missing a third straight preseason game. However, it also could be taken as a positive, because “they know what they get from me, and they saw me play with two sprained ankles last season,” Redman added. “So, they don’t question whether I can play through an injury and play through pain.”
Dwyer was asked what he could still do to impress the coaches.
“I just want to put more good stuff on tape and just continue to be consistent and make the most of every situation, every opportunity that I get on every down,” Dwyer said. “I’ve done some good things, but at the same time there are some things that I know I can do better. I know there are things that everybody thinks and says about our position, but I want to be even better.
“So, I’m extra hard on myself to try to be better in everything I do. … I think we’ve been moving the ball pretty well during the preseason. Yeah, we didn’t too well last year, but that was last year. And we’ve put that behind us. So, I think we’ve made positive strides so far in the preseason running the ball.”
Tomlin also commented this week on the competition at linebacker.
“I’m excited about watching these young linebackers sort themselves out in one last opportunity and, really, I made the point to them this morning that it’s less about what they do on defense, but more about what they do on special teams,” Tomlin said.
“I think we need more consistent, above-the-line effort from some of those guys in that regard. And, I think, ones that distinguish themselves will be ones that show an aptitude for playmaking and understand the football in that phase.”
One of those young players is undrafted rookie free agent Alan Baxter.
“I just need to keep improving day by day and game by game, learning the defense and show improvement from Day 1 until now,” Baxter said. “I think I’ve done that so far, but I have to keep it up. I have to show growth through this entire process. I thought I played pretty well in this last game, and I enjoyed the opportunity to make some plays in this defense.
“I was glad about that, so I feel good about that aspect. The penalty, it was something that I did once, but it won’t happen again. I’ve learned from it and have moved on. You’ve got to go as hard as you can every single time out and every single chance you get, you have to take advantage of it. That’s what you’ve got to do. That’s definitely my mindset.
“As an undrafted guy, you just have to do things to get noticed,” Baxter added. “There’s a little bit of a disadvantage there, but you just have to show that you can play the game at this level and stand out in some way. You need to do something to get noticed in a good way. That’s the kind of approach that I take, anyway. (And) I expect to play a lot in this final game.”
Another player on the bubble is wideout Derek Moye, and he couldn’t wait to get back on the field for another opportunity to prove his worth.
“I think I’ve been able to show a few things and maybe show a little more to my game than what some people might have thought from the beginning, but I still need to clean up some things,” Moye said. “And, hopefully, I can go out on Thursday and clean those things up and have a mistake-free game.”
And if any of the players fighting for roster spots can do that, it could propel them onto the final, 53-man group.