Stepping up: Coach Mike Tomlin didn't officially rule anyone out of playing on Thursday night against the Carolina Panthers, but chances are pretty good you will see some high profile starters on the sidelines as spectators.
And what that does is open the door for some young players to make a final push for a roster spot, show that they have the 'varsity-like' talent that Tomlin has referred to throughout the preseason.
In the past, the final preseason game has been a proving ground that earned a roster spot for players like Jordan Dangerfield, Stefan Logan and Patrick Bailey. "Over the years, there have always been examples that come to mind," said Tomlin. "I remember Stefan Logan, a number of years back returned a punt in the first quarter of the game. He excited us and had some big returns in prior games leading up to that. He'd been to midfield on a couple kickoff returns, I think versus Washington a couple of weeks prior to that. We gave him punt return duties in that game and I think the very first one he took back 80 yards or so and it was just one of those moments where you knew.
"But there are always some of those moments and we're excited about that. That's what this game brings, so we'll see who carves out and etches out a role for themselves this year. I thought Dangerfield was a guy who really seized the moment a year ago in this football game. I thought he displayed varsity-like work. That's a term that we've been using in team development this year. He displayed varsity-like work in that game a year ago. Somebody always rises to the occasion and that's what this process is about. We're excited about getting them in that venue and watching them do it again."
- Keep me in coach: There isn't anyone who wants to see progress out of Martavis Bryant this preseason more than Bryant himself. He has asked for extra playing time, even when starters are long gone from the action. And the work he is putting in, after being out of football for a year, is showing on the field, even if there is more to be done.
"I'm happy with the progress," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "I'm happy with his approach to the work. He's been very good and communicative about knocking the rust off in this process that he's been going through and it makes the process easier because there's a sincere acknowledgement that there is a process. He's gearing his behavior towards addressing it.
"He caught me coming off the field at the end of the half last week and asked if he could play into the second half, for example. I'm pleased with the direction it's going in, but it's ongoing and probably will be for an extended period of time, so be it. You have to respect the time missed and he does. With that attitude, it provides a platform for us to address a lot of those things for a variety of reasons."
Preseason pals: This will be the 15th consecutive the year the Steelers will close out the preseason against the Carolina Panthers, and the 19th time overall the two teams will meet in the preseason. Playing in the finale came from the relationship the Rooney family has with Jerry Richardson, the owner of the Panthers.
"Our ownership has a great working relationship," said Tomlin. "We always sit beside those guys at owner's meetings. You know it's just one of those very good relationships that's proven to be an awesome working one, particularly from a fourth preseason game standpoint and my experience with Coach (Ron) Rivera. Like myself, he's a fundamentalist and we have some good fundamental challenges in this last game and it creates an environment for those that are ready to show their football capabilities. We expect it to be a tough, fundamental game like it always is. It will be a great platform for men to display what they're capable of."