Staying in line: The battle for roster spots on the offensive line will also be on display when the Steelers open the preseason against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday night at Heinz Field. Sure, there are the established veteran starters on the line in Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster, David DeCastro and Alejandro Villanueva, but there are some young linemen who Coach Mike Tomlin is looking forward to see in game action.
“The natural attrition that is this process creates opportunity for guys to show versatility, for guys to move up and get reps with more veteran groups,” said Tomlin. “Guys like Chuks (Chukwuma Okorafor), Zach Banner and (Jerald) Hawkins, they have all had opportunities. Even on the interior, Fred Johnson has moved up here in the last couple of days and have really gotten some quality reps because of some of the opportunities that this process presents.
“I am excited about getting those guys in the stadium and seeing what they can do individually and collectively.”
Consistency counts: Another position that will get a lot of attention is kicker, where Chris Boswell, who has been hot lately, is fighting to keep his job with rookie Matthew Wright trying to take it.
“Our intentions right now are to go every other kick regardless of circumstance and we’ve done that out here,” said Tomlin. “You guys have felt that whether it’s punting or kicking, that’s our intentions as we go into the stadium.”
Boswell had his struggles last season, connecting on 13 of 20 field goal attempts, just 65 percent, the lowest in his four seasons with the team. While he has looked good on the practice field, how it translates into game play is what everyone is waiting to see.
“He’s been solid, but we haven’t done anything yet,” said Tomlin. “We’re stepping into a stadium for the first time and that’s exciting. We put him in some situations out here, but we’re just beginning to unfold the storyline in terms of the consistency there, not only for him, but all of those guys.”
Take a look at photos from the Pittsburgh Steelers 11th day of training camp
Something special: While some might feel the Steelers lost contributors on special teams this offseason, Tomlin feels the opposite. He likes the veteran group that returns on special teams, as well as some additions that he is anxious to get a look at.
“I feel like we have great veteran presence on our special team units,” said Tomlin. “With guys like Tyler (Matakevich) and Rosie (Roosevelt Nix), (Anthony) Chickillo, (Jordan) Dangerfield and others who have been core components of our units still returning. Younger players who contributed in a big way last year like (Terrell) Edmunds. I am comfortable with that unit and I am looking for some young guys to work their way into the fray.
“Some guys have displayed some skills that might be in line with that. It will be interesting to see them perform. Some of the guys who have been around like I mentioned earlier that we know have an established skillset in that area, you won’t see playing teams in a game because we are so interested in what some of those younger guys, those unknown guys are capable of. I know that Tyler can cover a punt. I know Rosie can cover a kick. You won’t see those guys doing that on Friday night.”