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5 Steelers to Watch vs. the Eagles

August 9, 2018
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5 Steelers to Watch vs. the Eagles

The Steelers’ preseason opener is for the rookies, the roster hopefuls and the evaluation of how new NFL rules work.

It will also give telling glimpses at backups who the team will call upon at some point this season when starters are needed, but out, for at least a play.

James Conner gets to try and prove he’s capable of spelling Le’Veon Bell. Linebackers will battle for especially precious roster spots and a couple defensive backs will feel out a couple positions when Pittsburgh visits the Philadelphia Eagles for Thursday’s 7 p.m. preseason opener.

Here are five players will be keeping an especially close watch on when they do, and why:

Keion Adams, OLB

Bud Dupree isn’t playing. T.J. Watt isn’t playing. In Tuesday’s practice Adams ran with the starting defense opposite Anthony Chickillo, continuing to make good on Kevin Colbert’s post-draft words about considering Adams an extra 2018 draft pick after the 2017 seventh-round selection returned from the shoulder injury that took away his rookie season.

With a solid showing against the Eagles, Adams can shore up his claim to Pittsburgh’s fourth edge rusher spot. There’s not likely to be a fifth if Dupree and Watt are healthy at the end of the preseason.

Mason Rudolph, QB

Showing improvement in the second week of camp, Thursday night gives Rudolph his first NFL test against a live pocket. Or, as Mike Tomlin put it, “There will be attempts to hit him Thursday.”

Then, Steelers coaches will have an idea of how much they can count on some of the pocket presence he’s shown in practice.

James Washington, WR

Pittsburgh is set to depend on Washington to create separation downfield this season. If he can’t, JuJu Smith-Schuster will have to come out of the slot, the Steelers offense will have to reshuffle and it will not have replaced Martavis Bryant. A rookie receiver who can get open vertically should be able to show as much against backup corners.

James Conner, RB

If Conner really can be a full-time fill-in for Bell, he should stand out against defensive backups unless the Steelers offensive front truly struggles. His opening the preseason with a solid performance would make it easier for Pittsburgh to take less of a by-committee backfield approach as the regular season nears with Bell out of camp.

Cameron Sutton, DB

Watch where he lines. Watch when he does so. Try and guess where the Steelers see him fitting into what could be a constantly shapeshifting defensive backfield. Sutton is the most fascinating factor in an already intriguing defense, able to play outside, as a nickel corner or dimebacker and at safety.

After assessing his play, consider how it might affect the number of roster spots available to others in those positions, like Dangerfield at safety, Coty Sensabaugh at outside corner and even Quadree Henderson and Justin Thomas, who are trying to make the team as punt returners, which is something else Sutton can be.

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