Mike Tomlin laid out the stakes for the game at Carolina earlier this week when he talked about linebacker Stevenson Sylvester making the team last season and kick returner Stefan Logan the year before that based on their play in the final preseason contest.
With the stage set for someone to play his way onto the Steelers in an otherwise more meaningless than usual preseason game, here are five players to watch.
– Cortez Allen: Someone is going to be the odd man out at cornerback, and it could well be the rookie fourth-round pick.
Allen has been hampered by a hamstring injury for a good part of the preseason though he played last Saturday against the Falcons.
He may need to show the coaches something Thursday night, as I have the final cornerback spot going to Allen or second-year man Crezdon Butler unless the Steelers keep seven corners.
– Tyler Grisham: The third-year man needs a big game in Carolina if he is to grab the last available spot at wide receiver. And that is if the Steelers keep six wideouts, which is hardly a sure thing.
Grisham has caught just two passes for 15 yards in three preseason games, and consistently separating from defensive backs may be what keeps him from getting over the hump at this level.
I have Grisham trailing Arnaz Battle for that No. 6 spot at wide receiver. And that is if a special-team standout doesn’t emerge at another position, prompting the Steelers to keep five wideouts.
– Corbin Bryant: The undrafted free agent out of Northwestern has been impressive at defensive end. But is there room for Bryant with veterans Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith and recent first-round picks Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward?
I have tackle Steve McLendon with the edge over Bryant for the final roster spot for a defensive lineman, assuming the Steelers keep seven of them, making this game critical for the latter.
– Trai Essex, C: With the Trib’s Mark Kaboly reporting Tuesday that Doug Legursky will open the season as the starter at right guard, the Steelers need to identify someone that can play center in the event of a game day injury Maurkice Pouncey.
Essex has played both guard and tackle during his six-year Steelers career. If he is capable of playing center in a pinch that would allow Legursky to stay at guard if Pouncey is knocked out of a game.
– Weslye Saunders, TE: It’s hard to imagine the Steelers keeping four tight ends. It’s also hard to imagine Saunders being one of the first three considering how raw the undrafted rookie out of South Carolina is and how much offensive coordinator Bruce Arians utilizes all of his tight ends.
Saunders, however, may have been a high-round draft pick in April had he played his senior season. If he plays well against the Panthers that might make the Steelers think twice about trying to sneak him onto the practice squad.
– Scott Brown