The rookie show

It was supposed to be about varsity players playing varsity ball, but a couple of rookies managed to crash the varsity party.

Safety Terrell Edmunds, running back Jaylen Samuels and linebacker Matthew Thomas showed up in Saturday afternoon's 16-6 victory over Tennessee along with veterans making their preseason debuts, established players such as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, center Maurkice Pouncey and defensive end Cam Heyward.

"It was amazing," maintained Edmunds, the Steelers' No. 1 pick. "Just being at Heinz Field, being in the atmosphere, I'm ready for the real season when it's really packed out. I know it's going to be loud.

"I think it's called, is it 'Renegade?' When they played that in the fourth quarter and I saw how loud it got, it was amazing."

It got pretty loud late in the second quarter, as well, during and immediately after Edmunds' interception of a Marcus Mariota pass and 30-yard return to the Tennessee 24-yard line.

"I was staring down the quarterback," Edmunds explained. "My man, he was right there on my hip. I knew I was going to undercut it if the quarterback was going to throw it. And I knew I had (free safety) Sean Davis over the top.

"After it happened, it was just time to get up and go."

Samuels, a fifth-round selection, led the Steelers in carries (11) and rushing yards (41) and also caught four passes for 36 yards.

He was denied a 17-yard, catch-and-run touchdown in the third quarter due to a holding penalty against wide receiver Marcus Tucker.

Samuels still appreciated what had taken place.

"I felt good after that play," he said. "It was a great play by me. I made two guys miss and then dove into the end zone."

Samuels' receiving skills have been on display since OTAs, but his conditioning hasn't been what it will need to be eventually.

"It's definitely getting better," he said.

Samuels either carried or caught the ball on seven consecutive snaps on the Steelers' first possession of the third quarter.

"Getting touches back-to-back-to back, that's tiring," he said. "You just have to suck it up and know you're the only back in on that drive so you better stay in."

Thomas, an undrafted rookie, got in for a handful of snaps with the first-team defense in a specialty package in place of outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo.

"I did think it was a big deal, just being out there with the first team," Thomas said. "It could be third-and-long, second-and-long, whatever the situation is. I just went out there and played ball, focused on my assignment."

Thomas ended up leading the defense with seven tackles and also contributed a stop and an assist on special teams.

"The kid is a freak," defensive end Stephon Tuitt insisted. "He can run fast, that's what he can do. He can run fast, and that's all that matters."

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: The first-team offense played into the second quarter, ran some no-huddle, found the end zone once and, as Roethlisberger put it, "stayed healthy."

That was enough for the third preseason game.

"We did it without some big names out there, without (running back) Le'Veon (Bell), without 'A.B.' (wide receiver Antonio Brown), without (tight end) Vance (McDonald)," Roethlisberger pointed out. "So some guys stepped up and did some really good things.

"I'm really proud of the way everyone played in kind of a short stint."

DO IT AGAIN: The first-team defense (minus strong safety Morgan Burnett and outside linebacker T.J. Watt) played into the second half after limiting Tennessee to 52 total net yards and collecting a pair of sacks and an interception in the first two quarters.

Heyward wasn't singing the unit's praises afterward.

"We just have to be very critical of ourselves, even when we win," he said. "When we do that we can stack performance on performance."

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