Aug. 14, 2019
Steelers' Winners & Losers in Preseason Week 1
The Pittsburgh Steelers may not have started off well against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their first preseason action, but once they got moving, they rolled. Some players looked great, some looked bad, and some didn't even suit up. But there were a lot of surprises tonight.
Here are nine winners and five losers from the Steelers' first 2019 preseason action.
James Washington. No one needed to come out this preseason and have a good night more than Washington, who had a disappointing rookie season after being selected in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft. He's slimmed down a bit and added speed, and it showed right away with a huge play downfield on the Steelers' opening drive. He finished with four catches for 84 yards and a touchdown.
Devlin Hodges. The Steelers rarely give a fourth-string quarterback many in-game snaps, but Hodges spent more than a quarter under center. He showed poise and awareness in the pocket that isn't expected of an undrafted rookie,and his accuracy may have been the best of all three quarterbacks. You may think he has no chance of making the roster, but good pre-season performances by 2018 backup Joshua Dobbs could see him on the trading block, possibly netting a decent return from a QB-needy team, and opening a spot for Hodges.
Zach Gentry. I didn't see him much in pass protection -- I'll have to look at the game film later -- but he caught all three of his targets, including a touchdown in the back of the end zone. That may not sound like much, but no tight end outside of Vance McDonald has particularly impressed so far in training camp, so a decent night for Gentry is a big deal right now.
Tuzar Skipper. In limited play, Skipper showed up with several pressures and a sack, as well as a tackle for a loss.
Tyler Matakevich. A strip-sack from a Steelers inside linebacker? Surely you mean rookie Devin Bush, right? Okay, Mark Barron? Wait, did Vince Williams suit up? No way it was Matakevich, right?
Ola Adeyini. Until he got hurt in the third quarter, Adeyini was the best outside linebacker on the field for the Steelers tonight. He had a ton of pressure, and answered some of the concerns about his abilities in coverage. He did a fine job against the run, too.
Devin Bush, Jr. Good. LAWD. In his first NFL action, Bush had 10 tackles. He only played one half. The biggest of all his plays was catching the running back from behind on 4th and inches to prevent the first down when the Steelers were already trailing 7-0. He was instinctive and quick to diagnose, and was always around the ball -- exactly what you expect from a guy who the team traded up to draft.
Ulysees Gilbert III. He didn't play until late in the game, but once he got onto the field he was a menace, with 1.5 sacks and was just plain disruptive. The Steelers have a logjam at OLB4.
Chris Boswell. Is the Wizard of Boz back? It sure looked like it tonight.
Chuks Okorafor. Quite a few holding calls in the first half. I'll need to go back to see if it was bad technique, or if he was just overmatched. Either way, when you keep hearing an offensive lineman's name, it's never good.
Justin Layne. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. He seemed to be a step behind all night long and was giving massive cushions to receivers. He had a few flashes though, so hopefully the light comes on soon for him.
Kevin Rader. You can't fumble that ball. Not in the fourth quarter of a tight ballgame. Preseason or not, you can't do that. That'll get you cut every day of the week, and twice on Sundays.
Jordan Berry. He didn't have a bad night, really, averaging 44.5 yards on two punts. But his competition, Ian Berryman, booted his lone punt 66 yards, and most of that was in the air. If Berryman proves to have a massive leg on a consistent basis, Berry could end up as a surprise cut.
Teryl Austin. Sure, it was preseason with mostly backups -- Joe Haden and Steve Nelson didn't play -- but coverage was bad on the Buccaneers' first two drives and the entire fourth quarter. So bad, in fact, that number-three QB Ryan Griffin went 26 of 43 for 330 yards -- in one half. Oh, and Austin, whose secondary role with the team is to assist head coach Mike Tomlin with deciding when to throw the challenge flag, allowed Tomlin to make what might have been his worst challenge to date -- and that's saying a lot, considering Tomlin hasn't won a challenge since 2016.