We finally made it. Steelers football is about to resume Thursday night against the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. Pittsburgh has a pretty established roster, so there won’t be many starting jobs up for grabs. Plenty of backup jobs will be up for grabs during the pre-season though, which should make things very interesting. Here’s my list of the top five players to watch tomorrow night and throughout the pre-season.
- James Conner: The Steelers need to find out sooner rather than later if Conner can be the replacement for Le’Veon Bell. How well he does during this these games while Bell is holding is crucial. Without a doubt it will have a big impact on what the team will do in the 2019 draft. Last season, Conner showed flashes, but his inability to pass protect cost him snaps. Word out if camp is there has been much improvement all around for the second year running back. On an offense that is pretty well settled at every position, Conner will be the most interesting to keep an eye on.
- Olasunkanmi Adeniyi: The depth at linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers is well…….awful. At outside linebacker it’s particularly weak. Anthony Chickillo is the only backup with any NFL experience whatsoever. Enter rookie free agent Adeniyi who will be battling former seventh round pick Keion Adams for the last outside linebacker spot. The comparisons to James Harrison as far as physical features and being a undrafted free agent have been made. Whether or not he can play anywhere near that level remains to be seen. Adeniyi is an interesting prospect, one I will be watching very closely.
- Matthew Thomas: Sticking with the thin linebacker theme we have inside linebacker Matthew Thomas. Thomas is a very talented, but somewhat troubled player out of Florida St. His issues led him to go undrafted despite his impressive physical tools. In fact, Thomas is probably the most athletic inside linebacker on this roster. If he can keep his head on straight, this could end up being quite the pickup for Kevin Colbert and the Steelers.
- Mason Rudolph: It’s impossible to do a list like this without including the new rookie quarterback. The heir apparent to Ben Roethlisberger will see his first NFL action on Thursday night. All eyes will be on Rudolph to see if he warrants the hype he’s gotten. In a perfect world, he never gets a snap in 2018. Having said that, it will be encouraging if he can push Landry Jones out as the team’s backup for this season.
- Jon Bostic: We already know who Vince Williams and Tyler Matakevich are at inside linebacker, and it’s not overly impressive. Jon Bostic is the hope that this group can be upgraded, especially over Matakvich. Injuries have hampered the former second round pick. So much so, he’s now on his fifth team in five seasons in the league. Bostic does have a reputation as a smart football player and a good communicator on the field. That is something this defense is in dire need of. If he can stay healthy, he can be an important role player for this team.