Opening the preseason at Heinz Field offered Steelers’ fans a chance to learn firsthand about the draft picks in a game setting.
It was a learning experience for the draft picks, as well.
For No. 1 pick Devin Bush, for No. 3 selection Justin Layne and No. 4 choice Benny Snell Jr., in particular.
“Coach (Mike Tomlin) told me before the game, he said, ‘Hey, you’re gonna learn today,” Layne, a cornerback from Michigan State, offered late Friday night following the Steelers’ 30-28 triumph. “After I messed up some plays, he said, ‘You’re gonna learn, it’s the time now.’ So why not?”
Layne started at cornerback and played into the fourth quarter.
He also played on the kickoff, kickoff return, punt and punt return teams.
Layne was most noticeable went he missed a tackle on a sideways pass from quarterback Jamies Winston to wide receiver Chris Godwin that ended up producing a 9-yard touchdown at the end of Tampa Bay’s first possession.
“I feel like I can make it,” Layne said of the play. “I see what I need to work on. Put my head on people, it’s not college anymore, and just relax a little bit. I feel like the last couple series I played I was a little bit more relaxed, more in my state.
“At first, I feel like it’s normal jitters every rookie has. Football, you’re gonna mess up some plays, miss some plays. I’m just going to have fun just going out there with the boys. I think I had fun.”
Bush, and inside linebacker from Michigan, did, too.
“I had a lot of fun tonight,” he said. “First NFL game, atmosphere was crazy. Being on the field was crazy. Hearing the fans was crazy. My family being there was also a great thing for me.
“It was a good night.”
Bush flashed when he made a sure and immediate tackle for an 8-yard gain on third-and-9 and then shot into the backfield untouched on the following snap and combined with outside linebacker Ola Adeniyi and stuffed a fourth-and-1 run for no gain early in the second quarter.
“A situational play right there,” Bush said. “I should have broke faster and broke the pass up. The next option was to not let them get a first down.”
Bush played two quarters and had 10 tackles, including seven solo (he was in on the stop on four of the Bucs’ first eight snaps).
But there was also an interception Bush had a chance to make but didn’t (it would have been nullified by a roughing-the-passer penalty) and a couple of occasions on which Buccaneers receivers got behind him for completions.
“A lot more to improve on,” Bush said. “Just the drops and understanding, a feeling thing, feeling it out and knowing where you are on the field from hash to hash.”
Snell, a running back from Kentucky, averaged 2 yards per attempt on 13 carries.
But he turned a short screen pass on third-and-20 late in the third quarter into a 20-yard gain and a first down, in part by driving through a pair of defenders on the way to the Tampa Bay 10-yard line.
“I was really itching for the end zone,” Snell said, “but it was a long down-and-distance so I’m just glad I got the first down.”
That was one of two receptions on three targets for Snell, who also played on the punt, punt return, kickoff and kickoff return teams.
“Very eager to show what I can do,” Snell said. “Very eager to earn the respect of the veterans and the coaches.”
BOSWELL ON TARGET: Chris Boswell kicked field goals of 33 and 47 yards and made his only extra point attempt while splitting the kicking chores with rookie Matthew Wright.
“Day in and day out I just kind of start with a fresh mind, don’t let anything linger, don’t let anything carry over,” Boswell said. “Hitting the ball really well right now, I just gotta keep it up. Each kick feels the same. I just have to focus on ‘next kick’ and worry about that and everything should be fine.
“I feel like I’m hitting the ball really well. It’s still real early in camp. I just have to keep showing up day to day. (Special teams coordinator) Danny (Smith) says it best, pressure’s doing something that you can’t do, and I’ve proven I can do it. Now I just have to prove it to myself day in and day out.”
A DIFFERENT WASHINGTON: Second-year wide receiver James Washington finished with four catches for 84 yards, including a 43-yard deep ball, a 22-yard crossing route on third-and-21 and an 8-yard, back-shoulder touchdown.
“I would say the game has slowed down a little bit,” Washington said.
Quarterback Mason Rudolph elaborated for his former teammate at Oklahoma State.
“He’s put a whole lot of work in this offseason physically, dropped some weight,” Rudolph said. “Just getting in his (play) book, staying on Coach Fichtner’s hip (offensive coordinator Randy). He’s not busting mentally. He’s on his p’s and q’s and he understands the offense, all the spots instead of just his one, the outside spot.
“He’s just more comfortable and you’re seeing the positives on the field.”
Game action photos from the Steelers' first preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Heinz Field