The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their second preseason game of 2019 Saturday night at Heinz Field against the Kansas City Chiefs and while a few starters will once again sit that contest out due to either injuries or a coaching decision, there will still be plenty of other younger players worth paying close attention to throughout the game. Below are 7 defensive players that Steelers fans will likely want to watch closely Saturday night against the Chiefs along with reasons why.
OLB Sutton Smith – After missing the Steelers preseason opener last Friday night with an undisclosed injury, it sounds like Smith, the team’s first of three sixth-round draft picks this year, will make his NFL debut Saturday night against the Chiefs. While everyone will be interested in watching Smith play on defense at outside linebacker, his reps on special teams should be the main focus. After all, Smith will need to have the blessing of special teams coordinator Danny Smith is he hopes to ultimately make the Steelers 53-man roster this year. Assuming Smith indeed does dress Saturday night against the chiefs, we might even see him get a snap or two on offense as a fullback. Time is running out for Smith, so he needs to play well Saturday night and especially on special teams. If he can’t or doesn’t, the buzz about him will officially come to an end.
ILB Ulysees Gilbert III – Gilbert, the Steelers third of three sixth-round draft picks this year, had a fine showing in the second half of the preseason opener. He ended that contest with three total tackles, 1.5 sacks, four quarterback hits and a forced fumble. He also intercepted a two-point pass attempt in the fourth quarter. Saturday night against the Chiefs, we could see Gilbert play a lot earlier than he did last Friday night. In fact, he might even relieved rookie inside linebacker Devin Bush, assuming he indeed does play. In short, expect Gilbert to play against a little better competition Saturday night as he’s earned the opportunity to do so. Gilbert also played 13 total special teams snaps in the preseason opener and is expected to get another busy night in that phase of the game against the Chiefs. Gilbert must start getting himself noticed more on special teams starting Saturday night. Steelers backup linebackers are generally expected to be good core special teams players. If Gilbert can’t prove himself to be one of those kinds of players, he won’t make the 53-man roster.
ILB Devin Bush – After a strong NFL preseason debut last Friday night, Bush will now be expected to deliver another fantastic performance Saturday night at Heinz Field against the Chiefs. Like last Friday night, Bush might start and that assumes he’s healthy enough to play after missing a training camp practice a few days ago with an unspecified injury. Ever since he was drafted 10th overall by the Steelers, Bush has been on track to ultimately be a starter in Week 1 of the regular season. Anything other than another impressive showing Saturday night against the Chiefs will be a bit of a letdown.
OLB Tuzar Skipper – Another outside linebacker on this list of seven defensive players and one who was on my list of 10 players to watch last week. Skipper had a nice debut in the team’s Friday night preseason opener as he was credited with two total tackles, one sack, and four quarterback hits. With fellow outside linebacker Olasunkanmi Adeniyi not expected to play Saturday night, Skipper might start the Steelers second preseason game if starters T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree are both rested once again. Even if Dupree does play Saturday night, he isn’t likely to play long and should then be relieved Skipper. Skipper, like the aforementioned Smith, needs to make a big impact on special teams in the final three games if he wants a chance at making the 53-man roster.
CB Artie Burns – After missing the team’s preseason opener last Friday with a groin injury, Burns is expected to be on the field Saturday night against the Chiefs. In fact, the Steelers former first-round draft pick out of Miami might even start against the Chiefs, a team he struggled against early last season. Hopefully the Chiefs play a lot of their offensive starters because Burns, who wound up being benched for most of the 2018 regular season, could really use some playing time against quality wide receivers. Burns needs a confidence boosting game Saturday night and if I were the Steelers, I would let him play at least the entire first half.
CB Justin Layne – Layne, the Steelers second of two third-round draft picks this year, had a very rough NFL preseason debut last Friday night. He started that contest due injuries and the moment looked to be too big for him throughout the Friday night game. Against the Chiefs, Layne might not be asked to start. However, he still should see a relatively large amount of snaps Saturday night. It will be interesting to see if Layne can bounce-back this week with a much better showing than he had last Friday night. While Layne should be considered a lock to make this year’s 53-man roster, the only way he’ll dress for games at the start of the regular season is if he proves himself to be an asset on special teams in the remaining preseason games. You’ll see him a lot in that phase of the game Saturday night against the Chiefs.
S Sean Davis – The Steelers starting free safety is expected to make his 2019 preseason debut Saturday night after missing not only the game last Friday night, but several training camp practices prior to that contest as well due to a serious finger injury. Davis could use some preseason work alongside fellow starting safety Terrell Edmunds and hopefully he gets it Saturday night. While Davis isn’t likely to play very long Saturday night, if he indeed does suit up, hopefully he can make a play or two in whatever limited amount of defensive snaps that he might play.