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The Steelers likely will be without injured No. 1 pick Ryan Shazier when they play the Giants in their preseason road opener Saturday night. But there are a number of other rookie draft picks and free agents who will be looking to make an impression in their first NFL action.
“I’m excited, but at the same time, I just want to go out and have fun,” said wide receiver Martavis Bryant, the team’s fourth-round pick. “I want to just do what I know and play football.
“It’s going to be cool to be playing in a game, but I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself. I think I’ve been doing all right. I’m still young, but I’m getting better every day.”
Second-round selection Stephon Tuitt, who is expected to start at defensive end Saturday, and third-rounder Dri Archer, a running back/receiver who also returns kicks, are excited about debuting in the shadows of the Big Apple, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
“It’s going to be a great crowd, a great environment and it’s going to be New York,” Archer said Thursday. “It definitely means a lot for rookies. We are trying to make the squad. I want to go out there and show the coaches they can trust me. I know my assignments and what to do.”
Tuitt has been filling in for Cam Thomas at left defensive end. Thomas has shifted to playing both nose tackle and right defensive end in practice this week while spelling injured nose tackle Steve McLendon (concussion) and right end Cameron Heyward (unspecified injury).
“No matter what I do in the game, I want to make sure I do the right things, do the things that I’m supposed to do,” Tuitt said. “I’ve been working hard to become the player that they want me to be.”
Offensive lineman and Beaver Falls native Chris Elkins, an undrafted free-agent from Youngstown State who has played both guard positions and center in training camp, gets to realize a dream when he runs onto the field on Saturday.
“It’s going to be amazing to get out there and get in a real uniform and play in an NFL game,” he said. “I’m just going to enjoy the moment and try to get some (good) film of myself out there.”
Cornerback Shaquille Richardson and offensive lineman Wesley Johnson, a pair of fifth-round picks, and sixth-rounder nose tackle Daniel McCullers are the other Class of 2014 draft picks expected to play against the Giants.
Shazier, who has missed the past three practices with a knee injury, is doubtful for Saturday, while linebacker Jordan Zumwalt (groin) and tight end Rob Blanchflower (high ankle sprain) are questionable. Zumwalt was a sixth-round pick, Blanchflower a seventh-round selection.
Coach Mike Tomlin said he won’t hesitate to use rookies in key situations this season. And Dick LeBeau has said that Shazier, a speedy linebacker, will be the first rookie to start for him in Week 1 since LeBeau returned as defensive coordinator in 2004. Tuitt also could challenge for a starting job.
“The guys that play and play significantly for us will be the guys that are capable of helping us win,” Tomlin said. “Some of those guys happen to be rookies, and to this point maybe some of those guys appear to be those types of people, (so) then we’ll play them. It’s just that simple.
“We’ve played rookies in the past, but those rookies have been outstanding guys that are capable of helping us win. Guys like Maurkice Pouncey didn’t take real long, about a week or so, to prove that he was capable of playing. Some of these guys have shown some of that. I will continue to watch them.”