Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown will make their annual preseason cameos on Saturday when the Pittsburgh Steelers host Indianapolis. James Harrison will hop out of the weight room and into uniform, too, so coach Mike Tomlin can see if Harrison’s 39-year-old legs are ready for the regular season.
How long any of Pittsburgh’s bold-faced names stay on the field depends entirely on how effectively they play. A short night is probably a good thing.
“We’re committed to our first wave and getting a sense of our overall readiness,” Tomlin said.
Some areas are set regardless. Good night or bad night, Roethlisberger is the starter. Brown, too. And Harrison’s spot as pinch-hitting pass rusher is also safe. The real intrigue for the defending AFC North champions as the days of training camp dwindle lay behind Roethlisberger and Brown on the depth chart, or elsewhere on the field.
Backup quarterback Landry Jones should also get his first reps of the preseason after an abdominal injury forced him to sit out the first two games, allowing rookie Josh Dobbs to get extended run. The early returns on Dobbs were mixed, and the odds of him leapfrogging Jones so soon are lean at best. Still, Jones is eager to get out there and be productive in hopes of providing a reminder to the coaching staff why the Steelers chose to re-sign him to a two-year deal in the offseason as the safety blanket in case Roethlisberger goes down.
“”I feel like I can go full speed,” Jones said. “The thing about it is, like with any injury, is just going out there cutting it loose.”
That’s something cornerback Coty Sensabaugh has done with regularity during camp, so much so that he will likely get a look with the first string opposite Artie Burns. Last summer Sensabaugh, was in Los Angeles after signing a three-year, $15-million deal with the Rams. By October he was cut. He ended up signing with the New York Giants, playing in 10 games as a slot cornerback before Pittsburgh took a flyer on him in free agency, signing him to a two-year contract in March.
Sensabaugh was supposed to be insurance. It hasn’t quite played out that way. Starter Ross Cockrell is going through an uneven camp, while Sensabaugh has consistently provided a spark and the physicality Tomlin craves.
“He’s proven to be a savvy veteran guy,” Tomlin said. “He doesn’t get got by similar concepts. His above-the-neck game is very strong. I think those are assets to him in terms of how he performs.”
Sensabaugh isn’t trying to get caught up in the numbers game. Considering the abrupt end to his tenure with the Rams, he’s learned not to take anything for granted. His versatility gives the Steelers options, and don’t expect Sensabaugh to start getting picky about when and where he plays.
“Whatever it takes to help the team win and wherever this team needs me, I’m all for it,” Sensabaugh said.
Pittsburgh’s first-string defense looked like a work in progress last week against Atlanta. The Falcons rolled up 239 yards and 13 points on their first three possessions, largely against Steelers starters. That’s not exactly the kind of momentum Tomlin wants to build as the regular-season opener against Cleveland draws closer.
“I’m looking for these guys not to warm up on possession downs this game as they did (last week),” Tomlin said.
The only real question on the first-string offense centers on running back Le’Veon Bell’s arrival. The All-Pro has yet to sign his franchise tender, though he tweeted earlier this week he plans to arrive on Sept. 1, the day after Pittsburgh’s preseason finale against Carolina.
Bell will get his job back whenever he shows up, though there could be some new faces in the huddle. Wideout Justin Hunter is putting together an impressive camp, and his emergence means Sammie Coates, Cobi Hamilton or Darrius Heyward-Bey could be the odd man out when rosters are trimmed to 53. The final decision may come down to who can best handle the variables thrown at them by offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s playbook.
“They all have to have position flexibility, we move those guys around quite a bit, not only for their benefit but for the benefit of others,” Tomlin said. ” Some guys just have to learn to move around in an effort to play off AB because of the way we utilize him. That’s just a part of being a wideout in today’s NFL and specifically here.”
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