Updated: Aug 4, 2021
(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
The Steelers will make the short trip from Pittsburgh to Canton, Ohio, tomorrow for the Hall of Fame Game against the Cowboys. And while it's a meaningless preseason game, as far as the standings go, there's still plenty at stake for those trying to ascend on the depth chart or make the roster.
Below are three things that I'm looking forward to watching in the first exhibition game of the 2021 NFL season.
Mason Rudolph/Dwayne Haskins
This one is really a no-brainer, as all of Steelers Nation will be glued to the TV to see how Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins perform. Mike Tomlin said yesterday during his press conference that Rudolph will start the game, and Haskins will finish the second half and play into the third quarter.
Reports out of Steelers' training camp haven't been promising for Rudolph, while Haskins has been solid and consistent, excelling especially during two-minute drills.
Thursday night will be the first real test for the two young quarterbacks, as it's in the four preseason games where the No. 2 quarterback position will be ultimately decided.
Rudolph is in his fourth season, so he shouldn't lack confidence right from the start of the game. I want to see him command the huddle and move down the field methodically. However, the biggest thing that I'll be watching is his pocket presence and how he handles pressure because I believe that's his biggest flaw, along with not having the ability to extend plays.
And, according to Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Rudolph has still been struggling with that aspect of his game at training camp.
With Haskins, I want to see his decision-making and accuracy, as those were two big issues for him when he was in Washington. And then, of course, I want to see Haskins' run play-action and show off his natural throwing motion that Ben Roethlisberger praised during OTAs. Mark Kaboly of The Athletic wrote that Haskins has been the best play-action passer at training camp. It will also be interesting to see how new offensive coordinator Matt Canada utilizes Haskins in the offense.
Steelers fans will get their first glimpse of first-round pick running back Najee Harris on Thursday night, as Tomlin is pretty firm in his belief that young players should get as much preseason experience as possible. For Harris' case, let's just hope it's a series or two, as the Steelers will need their featured back at full-strength for when things become real on Sept. 12 against the Bills. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see Harris in live-action for the first time in the black and gold.
The Offensive Line
The Steelers will be dealing with a makeshift offensive line in the Hall of Fame Game, as it's unlikely that Chuks Okorafor, Kevin Dotson, or Zach Banner will play in the game. Potential starting center and third-round pick Kendrick Green will get the start though, and I'm interested to see if he displays a nasty demeanor as he reportedly has during training camp. He and fellow rookie offensive lineman Dan Moore Jr. haven't been afraid to get in tussles at training camp. In fact, Moore has got in three fights with veteran defensive tackle Cameron Heyward during training camp. Moore should start at left tackle and it will be compelling to see how he performs, as well. There have been both positive and negative reports out of training camp on Moore, so he'll be an intriguing player to evaluate.
Geoff Schwartz also mentioned that he's hearing that Moore is going to start at left tackle in Week 1 for the Steelers. So, take that for what it's worth. Is Okorafor dealing with an injury that's more serious than what the Steelers thought?
I went all on offense for three things to watch for in tomorrow night's game, but the Steelers' slot cornerback battle between Antoine Brooks Jr. and Arthur Maulet is another thing to keep an eye on, along with outside cornerback James Pierre, who has been a camp phenom for the second straight year. The punter competition between rookie Pressley Harvin III and Jordan Berry is also something noteworthy to watch.