LATROBE, Pa. – It may not count in the standings, but don't try telling Coach Mike Tomlin that the preseason opener doesn't matter.
The Steelers open their preseason at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday night against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium.
"What we're looking for in this first time out really is quite simple: I want the group to play fast, I want them to play with the urgency that's required to play winning football in a stadium setting," said Tomlin. "I'm looking for that. We'd like to keep penalties to a minimum, we'd like to play assignment-clean football, but at this stage of the journey we'll see where we are in that regard. But what's paramount is that we play fast and we play hard and we play with urgency."
How much last summer's 0-4 preseason record had to do with the 0-4 start to the regular season that became 2-6 at the midway point is debatable, but the players on this team who experienced that don't want to test the correlation again. But it still is the preseason, and there will remain an emphasis on evaluation and development.
"The things we're doing this year are geared toward building this football team. I don't reference last year, or any (past) season for that matter," said Tomlin. "This is a different group, and I acknowledge that this group needs to start fast and play with the type of urgency that's required to win. Those will be our intentions. Those always will be our intentions whenever we play, regardless of circumstances."
As for the playing-time distribution, Tomlin wouldn't specify how many snaps would be allotted to the different groups, but his track record indicates the first teams will see up to a dozen snaps depending upon the early flow of the game. They will be followed by the primary backups, who should see about 25-30 snaps, and then the rest of the game will be manned by those currently listed at the bottom of the depth chart. Whether those individuals remain at the bottom of the depth chart, or work their way higher, will depend upon how they perform against the Giants.
"Our goal is to give these guys what we deem that it is they need, or what it is we need to see from them," said Tomlin. "So it'll be different things for different people."
Take a look at photos of the Pittsburgh Steeler's 10th day of Training Camp.
There are currently six players who could be characterized as questionable for the game, based on their present health status. Tomlin listed those as nose tackle Steve McLendon (concussion), wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (concussion), linebacker Ryan Shazier (knee), linebacker Jordan Zumwalt (groin), tight end Rob Blanchflower (ankle), and linebacker Jarvis Jones (groin).
"Some of those guys have participated (in practice) in some form or fashion, partially in some instances," said Tomlin. "We'll just continue to monitor some of those guys. Our intention is to play those guys if it's at all possible, but we'll wait until the last minute to make those judgments.
"Everyone who's healthy will participate in the football game. We have a number of guys who aren't healthy right now, but we're going to leave the light on for those guys. We're going to wait until the 11th hour before making decisions whether to play some of them. But our goal is to get full participation to get those guys off to a good start and show what they're capable of and move forward with the developmental process of our team."
Some teams hold star players out of preseason games – Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson being one example – but Tomlin won't grant anyone on this Steelers roster such a status.
"I'm always the-healthy-guys-play type of a coach," said Tomlin. "The preseason is very necessary to develop regular season readiness and cohesion, and the only way to do that is to play. I've been the same dating back to 2007 in that regard. If they're deemed healthy and ready to play, I'd just as soon get that first play out of the way so we can move on with the process."