LATROBE, Pa. – After getting their feet wet in last week's 27-17 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Steelers starters will get an opportunity to swim this weekend when they host the Buffalo Bills Saturday at Acrisure Stadium.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said Thursday on the final day of training camp practices here at Saint Vincent College he will give his starters on both sides of the ball a little more playing time in the team's second preseason game than he did the first.
And he is especially looking forward to seeing his defense – the entire defense – get more of a test.
Veterans such as defensive lineman Cam Heyward, outside linebacker T.J. Watt and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick did not suit up against the Buccaneers. But they will do so this week, as will some others who didn't get an opportunity to play because of injury last week, such as rookie Joey Porter Jr., a cornerback selected in the second round of the draft.
There are also some additional veterans on defense who are new to the team, such as safety Keanu Neal and cornerback Patrick Peterson, who did not play against Tampa Bay and will see their first game action as Steelers.
"I am looking forward to seeing some guys we held out last week. I'm looking forward to watching those guys, particularly the guys that are new to the NFL, like Joey, and new to us, like Keanu and Pat," Tomlin said.
Communication with crowd noise in a home environment should be beneficial for the defense.
"Our home-game venue is an asset to us, but it does present some challenges from a defensive communication perspective," Tomlin said. "That's one of our little agendas in preparation for this game, making sure we respect that component. We get one opportunity in the preseason to play at home, so defensive communication in the midst of that is going to be big for us."
For the offense, it will be all about moving the ball effectively – and scoring.
Kenny Pickett was able to do that in his only series last week in Tampa Bay, completing 6 of 7 passes for 70 yards and a touchdown on the Steelers' opening possession of the game.
That group will likely also get a more extended look this week against the Bills.
With training camp at Saint Vincent College wrapping up Friday, Tomlin has been pleased by the growth of his second-year quarterback.
"I just like the ways he's communicating with people," Tomlin said. "I like the way he comes in every day ready to compete. He's not overanalyzing the big picture too much. He's just trying to play his role in the creation of a great day and being there. I think other people, by virtue of his position, get their vibe off of that.
"His ability to remain singularly focused and hyper-competitive is an asset to our unit and to our team."
Running back Najee Harris also only got one touch on that opening drive, that coming on a reception, as the Steelers have monitored his touches, even in full contact periods in training camp.
"It's about the maturation of him and what he needs," Tomlin said of his third-year running back.
"Less physical reps are required the older he gets. There's nothing ground-breaking or earth-shattering about that."
But Tomlin is looking forward to seeing the offense build off what it did a week ago. The Steelers spent one day game-planning for Tampa Bay. They've devoted two days to working on things they want to do against Buffalo.
"It's reasonable to expect them to be better in all areas given last week's in-stadium experience," Tomlin said. "The process which we go through to tee up the performance is something we want to capture and master. This is the second time for us to do it, so it's reasonable to expect that performance floor to be higher."
After allowing B.T. Potter and Braden Mann to do the kicking and punting last week, Tomlin will turn back to incumbents Chris Boswell and Pressley Harvin III this week.
He'll also take a look at Calvin Austin III as the punt returner and Anthony McFarland returning kicks. Rookie Jordan Byrd handled both of those tasks against Tampa Bay.
"I'm really interested in Anthony McFarland as a kick returner and Calvin Austin as a punt returner," Tomlin said. "We focused their efforts last week on their offensive contributions, particularly in the first half of the game. We're really going to be interested in their special teams contributions this week, along with their offensive responsibilities."
The only players Tomlin ruled out for the game were defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi, safety Tre Norwood and guard Nate Herbig.