One calendar year after having no preseason, the Steelers will be playing an extra preseason game in about 48 hours, and Coach Mike Tomlin plans to take advantage.
"We've got every intention of taking everybody in our training camp party to Canton," said Tomlin, "and like many Hall of Fame games and first preseason games, there'll be select veterans who won't participate, guys you're probably familiar with and can anticipate (not playing), such as Ben and Cam Heyward Joe Haden, and others. We haven't spent a great deal of time talking about the division of labor and how much those we designate to play are going to play. We're really not going to address that until we get the guys out of the building (Tuesday)."
There will be no appearances against the Dallas Cowboys made by Roethlisberger, Heyward, and Haden, and Tomlin made clear that any and all decisions to hold out players would be made on the basis of age and experince, and with no consideration to the roles indivduals will be expected to fill come the beginning of the regular season.
Take Najee Harris as an example. The team's first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft has been viewed as a starter at running back since the first on-field workout of the offseason, and he is being viewed by fans and media as the best hope the Steelers have for developing an effective ground game this season.
"He's a rookie, he needs the process of game preparation, and then ultimately play," said Tomlin. "We've got four opportunities for him to do that, and we're going to make sure he participates in all four of those processes. We will determine how much he plays (in those games), but the preparation process, the process of readying yourself to play is something I believe all those young guys need, regardless of their potential roles for us."
Tomlin did say that Mason Rudolph will start at quarterback, and the belief as of Tuesday afternoon was that the rest of the rotation at the position would have Dwayne Haskins playing at the end of the first half and Josh Dobbs playing at the end of the fourth quarter. Tomlin explained it that way because the team closed Tuesday's practice in pads with the two-minute drill, and Haskins and Dobbs were scheduled to get a good bit of work during that drill in preparation for the game.
As of Tuesday, nobody had been ruled out of the game for health reasons, but based on practice participation, or lack thereof, it should be considerd unlikely that Zach Banner, Chuks Okorafor, Kevin Dotson, T.J. Watt, Devin Bush, Eric Ebron, or Stephon Tuitt would see any playing time.
But while a lot of the focus in the run-up to this preseason opener will be on those who don't play or cannot play, Tomlin made it clear he values this "extra" preseason game, and while the outcome might not count in the standings, what happens during the game will count toward the evaluation of individuals and units.
"We're gonna know a heck of a lot more about our team walking out of that stadium (in Canton) than we will walking into that stadium, and that's the excitement of the first time," said Tomlin. "We've seen some things already, and we've seen some evidence of some things. Guys have an opportunity to maybe confirm some things and provide some perspective that we're starting to develop about them individually and collectively. I'm sure there'll be some surprises positively and negatively. It's all a part of the process, but I think that's what creates the excitement about going into a stadium for the first time."