LATROBE, Pa. – The way Coach Mike Tomlin sees it, the expectations for the second preseason game are somewhat similar to the expectations he has for second-year players.
Last Friday night, the Steelers opened their 2019 preseason with a 30-28 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Heinz Field, and on Saturday they will host the Kansas City Chiefs at 7:30 p.m. at Heinz Field.
"Looking forward to the growth," said Tomlin today during a news conference inside Benedict Hall. "Often times I talk about the second-year players. They've had a lap around the track, and so it's reasonable to expect a jump in performance, execution, detail, etc. The same thing could be said about a group after they all have been in a stadium. As we march into a stadium for the second time, it's reasonable to expect an upswing in all areas."
For this second outing, Tomlin said Mason Rudolph will start at quarterback, and he will be followed by Joshua Dobbs. Then "we have every intention of playing Devlin Hodges," said Tomlin. "We'll see how all of that unfolds, because some in-game things are going to dictate some of that."
Besides the quarterback rotation, what could prove interesting is the way players are grouped in this game against the Chiefs. As an example, those who performed well as part of the third group against the Buccaneers – which means they likely didn't see much playing time until late in the third quarter – could get onto the field earlier against the Chiefs and therefore get a chance against better competition.
"Guys who performed well in their last exposure will get more playing time in this game and probably more exposure against stiffer competition," said Tomlin. "That has been what this process has been about. We're getting more deliberate about where we put people and the situations we put people in and the group they're running with. It has been a good process, but we came here to ready ourselves for the season and take 90 to 53, and so it's time for some of those things to take place."
It used to be that teams were required to cut rosters from 90 to 75 players before the final preseason game, and then go from 75 to 53 players almost immediately after the fourth preseason game. That was changed a couple of years ago, and now there is just one cut-down – from 90 to 53 – and that has to happen by 4 p.m. on Aug. 31.
With training camp essentially over tomorrow, and with half of the preseason over for the Steelers following Saturday night's game, time is flying by if you happen to be someone fighting for one of those 53 roster spots.
There will be a bit more game-planning for the Chiefs than there was vs. the Buccaneers, but it still will be nothing compared to what is normal game-planning for a regular season game. The idea is to keep things as fundamental as possible so that players are not paralyzed by not knowing what to do or where to be, because the most important thing at this stage still is to add evidence to the evaluation process.
"Opportunities are starting to get scarce as we come to the conclusion of camp and start to continually step into stadiums," said Tomlin. "The sand is running through the hourglass, and guys are losing opportunities to state a case for themselves. So there is a certain urgency. We've been in a stadium, and so guys have a litmus if you will in terms of where they are from an actual football perspective. It will be exciting to see guys build upon that."
STEELERS NOTES: As far as the kicking competition, Tomlin said the intent is to alternate the kickers on every opportunity, which is the way it was handled in the preseason opener. But Tomlin added that the kickers were going to be challenged during the last couple of on-field sessions at Saint Vincent College and that the outcome of those challenges could alter the plan for the kickers on Saturday night … Rookie receiver Diontae Johnson has practiced infrequently throughout this training camp because of a few different injuries. Tomlin said Johnson was able to practice on Wednesday and that he's scheduled to practice on Thursday as well … No decisions on the status of any of the injured guys will be made until a lot closer to kickoff vs. the Chiefs because Tomlin wants to be as inclusive as possible and give everybody an opportunity to play.