TIOPS FRIDAY COLUMN
Ha! Brady looks distracted! The court case is getting to him! Gisele may be leaving him! Garopollo stinks…
Sorry. Got ahead of myself there. If we are judging on pre-season performance in advance of the big NFL Week One opener in New England, then that Hall of Fame Game outing shouldn’t make any Steeler fan feel great even if the scrubs played a lot of the night.
So with that being said, here are some angles/trends/players to keep an eye on during game two of the pre-season tonight in Jacksonville.
When will Tomlin go for two?: Speaking of the Patriots, Bill Belichick became the first coach to try for a two point conversion after a TD under the new rules because… well, because he’s Bill Belichick and this is the kinda stuff he does. F-you everybody else! Keep in mind, he also had Brady throwing from his own end zone on 1st and 10 with back up WRs and three rookie O-lineman as well. So, go for two? Hell yeah why not.
My guess is Tomlin would’ve loved to go for two after his team’s first touchdown last week if…err, well… they actually scored one. But Jesse James’ hands just wouldn’t let that happen.
They’ve been working on goal line a lot. The Steelers sure have the weapons. Any rep they can get in the red zone helps (for two or six) because they were so bad at it last year. So why not work on it vs the Jags? Plus it’s not like Shaun Suisham is ever gonna miss an extra p…oops, scratch that.
Oh, right…the kicker: Yup. That’s something to keep in mind. Whereas teams often times will use the pre-season to tinker with fourth down opportunities to keep offenses on the field in the pre-season, the Steelers may not in this game so they can get a feel for Garrett Hartley. In practice Wednesday he was really accurate until they pushed him beyond 50 yards. Then he wasn’t close.
Also regarding Hartley, I had forgotten that he rarely kicked off in New Orleans. The Saints had punter Thomas Morstead handle kickoffs. So watch out for that too.
Kevin Fogg…The FOGG MACHINE: I like him. He’s my camp guy. My Mr. August. I know that sounds bold AFTER the first pre-season game. But I mentioned it Friday on the air because he made a play in every practice I saw. Then he made three in the game itself. He picked a pass. He saved a TD (briefly) by tackling Stefon Diggs on a punt return before the goal line. And he flew up in run support to make another tackle late in the contest Sunday. Plus he kept churning in the night practice by hauling in an interception. So I see your Anthony Chickillo and raise you a Kevin Fogg. There are snaps to be had at corner. And there is always help needed on special teams. I think Fogg could get himself a roster spot.
Markus Wheaton: He didn’t start practicing until Tuesday. He’s had a hamstring injury. But he had a strong debut catching a pass of over 60 yards from Ben Roethlisberger. Then during the night practice Wednesday he made a few more attention grabbing plays. An utter non factor as a rookie with just six catches, Wheaton wound up with 644 yards on 53 receptions last year. The back and forth over who will start opposite Antonio Brown between Wheaton and Martavis Bryant makes for good bar stool conversation. But the truth is they will still both play a ton of minutes. And no one will care if Wheaton is the “third” receiver in the slot should he move the sticks with a bunch of third down catches. As Tomlin may say, he’s “arrow up” right now.
How many snaps before a safety gets hurt?: Shamarko Thomas and Mike Mitchell worked their way back onto the field in varying degrees this week. We’ll see how much, if at all they play. Thomas can’t seem to stay on the field. Mitchell stayed on it even though he was hurt last year and the results weren’t good. Then there is Robert Golden who we all thought may need a limb replacement after his injury before the Vikings game. But that injury wasn’t as bad as it looked. So he may be able to play soon. But it would be nice to get a few looks at the players on the depth chart at that position together on the field without Will Allen having to play two spots at once.
I’d like to give you something to watch for the Jaguars. But Lindsay Duke and Blake Bortles broke up last November so really, do we need to talk about them at all?
The answer is no. And likely, we will never speak of this pre-season affair again after next weekend. But this is the NFL and we are in an NFL city. Obsessing over every snap is what we do. And we do it well. So enjoy your Friday night.