The Pittsburgh Steelers kick off the preseason Thursday night in Philadelphia and here are some notes and observations out of Mike Tomlin’s presser today:
— As is the case always in the first preseason game, this will be a game more about the backups and so on. “The first groups will go one to two series apiece, offensively and defensively, ” head coach Mike Tomlin said today.
— Oft injured Willie Colon (ankle) has been ruled out of Thursday’s game in addition to Cam Heyward (Back). It is disappointing news for Colon who has been tremendous in camp, making a smooth transition to left guard. Other players will be ruled out for Thursday’s game following today’s workout.
— The Steelers starting offensive line left to right for Thursday’s game will be Mike Adams – Ramon Foster – Maurkice Pouncey – David DeCastro – Marcus Gilbert. Foster will slide over to left guard in place of Colon.
— Tomlin views Thursday’s game and the next couple preseason games as the main evaluation for rookies Mike Adams and David DeCastro, others, of where they really are as he constantly mentioned throughout the presser that there’s only so much you can go off of in camp and how players perform in stadiums is the real evaluation. “This is going to be a significant step going into stadiums, ” Tomlin said of evaluating young players. “Some men are capable of seizing the moment and some probably won’t.”
This is going to be a big next couple of preseason games for DeCastro and Adams when it comes to starting week 1, most notably DeCastro who has struggled in camp. Tomlin has tried to downplay some of that. “Both guys have worked extremely hard, ” Tomlin said. “They’ve had good moments and not so good moments. Both guys finish, smart young men, we’ll see more about them and get to know more about them Thursday night…..This is a big portion of the evaluation.”
Tomlin brought up Maurkice Pouncey in his rookie training camp when discussing DeCastro and Adams. “Third preseason game before we made decision to put him in lineup, ” Tomlin said. “Reality is what happens out here in practice is one thing, what Maurkice showed us in stadiums was something that convinced us he was ready to do the job and these guys have a significant opportunity Thursday night.”
— Tomlin said he’s not opposed to giving some first team players an extended look, with rookies Adams and DeCastro being likely candidates. “That’s a possibility but we haven’t nailed it down. We’re not opposed to give people within those groups extended work.”
— Chris Rainey will be the primary kick and punt returner Thursday night, with wide receivers Marquis Maze and David Gilreath following Rainey in the rotation. “We’re excited about getting looks at our returnmen. Chris Rainey will return punts early on, give ways to Maze and Gilreath, ” Tomlin said.
— 4th string quarterback Jerrod Johnson has the thrown the ball extremely well in camp and will play most if not all of the second half. “We’re anticipating giving Johnson an extended look at quarterback in second half, ” Tomlin said.
— Tomlin admitted that he’s seen some disturbing things from the group of receivers after Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery. “They’ve been inconsistent largely. We’ve seen some things that could get us excited and some things that have been disturbing, ” Tomlin said.
— One thing that seems to have caught a lot of peoples attention today was Tomlin’s comments about David Johnson, saying the team does not regard him exclusively as a fullback, which isn’t surprising but could help Will Johnson’s chances of making the team if the Steelers go with Health Miller, Leonard Pope at tight end and use David Johnson as a flex player at fullback and tight end until Wes Saunders serves his suspension. “I’m not ready to say Johnson is exclusively a fullback, ” Tomlin said of David Johnson. “This guy has had several years with us, exclusively at tight end, we made commitment to work him in the spring, early portion of camp at fullback to give him that exposure, but I’ve always found opportunities to play him at tight end such as tight ends vs outside linebackers….. you’ll see when we get back from Philly, we’re going to allow him to play tight end some. His position flexibility is an asset.”