You guys know I could rattle on about the Steelers depth chart in previewing tonight’s preseason opener against Tampa Bay.
But I’m taking a different approach.
I’m naming one player to watch at each position. Just one.
So he had better be worth it.
QUARTERBACK — Devlin “Duck” Hodges (6) still needs one of the other QBs to melt down — and by that I include injuries. But at least Duck has that shot after a solid first two weeks of training camp. He’s the rookie out of the FCS who wasn’t drafted, nor signed until after a minicamp tryout. At 6-1, Hodges is just big enough, his arm is just strong enough, he’s savvy, and if he had a pot belly he could be Billy Kilmer. I’m really showing my age now, so moving on ...
RUNNING BACK — Benny Snell (24) is the fourth-round pick who carried Kentucky against SEC defenses that knew he was getting the ball on big downs. Snell’s looked good in camp. He ran rings around Devin Bush in a passing drill, and picked him up in blocking drills from time to time. The big-hearted inside runner has also flashed some outside speed at Saint Vincent College.
WIDE RECEIVER — For eight days, Donte Moncrief (11) had been catching with only one hand, until he scrimmaged Wednesday without a wrap on his left hand. And dropped the only pass thrown to him. Ben Roethlisberger raves about his instincts and understanding, so the hope is the 26-year-old “Crief” is a free-agent find.
TIGHT END — Kevin Rader (87) has been getting plenty of work in preparation. He lined up at fullback the other day and beat Bud Dupree for a 15-yard gain. Rader’s out of Pine-Richland High and Youngstown State and played well in Green Bay’s camp last year. He’s more receiver than blocker, so let’s look for some physicality.
OFFENSIVE LINE — Zach Banner (72) needs to come out on fire, not warm up to it. That seems to be his M.O. In one-on-ones the other day, Banner was startled and beaten by an opponent, whom Banner then smashed in the ensuing two reps. And at 6-8, 344, that’s a lotta smashing. He was born to play right tackle and could blossom into a star player a few years later than expected, like his father, Lincoln Kennedy.
DEFENSIVE LINE — Isaiah Buggs (96) is as close to a roster lock as any sixth-rounder can be, but he does have to show up. He’s talented. Some questioned his drive, but through camp I’ve heard no complaints. It’s always been, “Buggs is gonna to be good.” Would be nice to watch this hyrbrid tackle/end against second-teamers.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER — All eyes have to be on Ola Adeniyi (92). Ola led them with three sacks last preseason, got injured in the last game, said he could’ve been ready for Week 1, but was kept on IR until the latter portion of the season. Can he take playing time from the Nos. 2 and 3 OLBs? Stay tuned.
INSIDE LINEBACKER — Devin Bush (55) has been doing so much at camp, and I expect him to be in heavy use tonight. GM Kevin Colbert said Bush’s breakout practice was under the lights in downtown Latrobe, a day after Snell ran him ragged in a one-on-one coverage drill. Bush’s instincts are great in zone and he has the speed to improve his man coverage. Look for him on all three downs and on special teams, most prominently as the personal protector on punt.
CORNERBACK — My disciplined approach prevents me from naming the rookie draft pick I really want to watch, but who’s been nicked with a minor injury. So, let’s focus on Cameron Sutton (20). I believe the Steelers will use him wide with two veteran corners also injured. It’s the third year for this former third-round pick, who’s probably the camp interceptions leader. Here’s his chance to show he can be that guy in case of an injury to a starter. And while we’re asking, can Sutton be a star punt gunner, too?
SAFETY — Yes, Kameron Kelly (38) has some stiffness, and that’s probably why the Dallas Cowboys just couldn’t keep him last year. They liked him. So did the reporters covering the team. But Kelly ended up in Pittsburgh and looks like King Kong Bundy playing center field back there at 6 feet 2. Hey, I thought Kam Chancellor was stiff, too, and he became a Super Bowl star for Seattle. The other day, Kelly pulled up instead of pulverizing a small slot receiver who had just caught a slant. It made me think about what an unencumbered Kelly might do in tonight’s game.
PUNT COVERAGE — Trey Edmunds (33) is just a winner. I want him in my locker room. But there’s a numbers problem because the Steelers already have a fullback. To solve that, Edmunds needs to blow up on special teams.
KICK COVERAGE — My way of getting another guy in this column, and it’s 6-C draft pick Ulysees Gilbert (54). Give them an excuse to keep an athletic ILB by running and hitting on special teams. Likely headed to the practice squad to add grown-man strength.
RETURN SPECIALIST — Diontae Spencer (82) is the CFL’s single-game recordholder with 496 all-purpose yards (133 receiving, 165 kickoff return, 169 punt return). Here are some other key numbers: 27 years old, 5 feet 8, 170 pounds. He’s in his prime, he’s small, and he’s quick. But he hasn’t shown any ultra-quick at camp. Neither had Stefan Logan, but that 5-6, 180-pounder had enough to make the 2009 team with a few big preseason returns.