5 things to watch for in the Steelers vs. Jaguars preseason game

Camp ended at Saint Vincent College, leaving the Pittsburgh Steelers at their UPMC Rooney Sports Complex facility for the remainder of the 2022 season. But before having a practice on the South Side, the Steelers head to North Florida for their only pre-season game away from home.

Here are five things to watch for in Saturday’s 7 p.m. game against the Jacksonville Jaguars:

1. Pickett’s charge

There wasn’t necessarily a formal adjustment to the Steelers’ quarterback depth chart, but coach Mike Tomlin said Kenny Pickett, and not Mason Rudolph, will be the second quarterback to enter Saturday after Mitch Trubisky starts. .

That differs from the Trubisky-to-Rudolph-to-Pickett job order used during last week’s preseason opener against the Seattle Seahawks. Tomlin denied the adjustment was a reward for Pickett’s performance in that game (13-of-15, 95 yards, two touchdowns) or a reprimand of Rudolph’s play throughout camp (which has been consistent). Tomlin’s desire to play Pickett earlier in the game is more a function of wanting to expose the rookie to more replays of the game and against higher-caliber competition.

As a first-round pick who had already been popular in Pittsburgh, fans surely won’t be upset because they’ll see Pickett more prominently this week.

2. The stars come out

Traditionally, Tomlin has been like most modern NFL coaches in that it was during the penultimate preseason game that he played with his starters the longest. This season, however, marks the first time Tomlin will preside over a three-game preseason schedule; he had always been (at least) four in the past.

As such, there was some speculation that Tomlin might wait for the third (and now final) preseason game to let his featured players play. After all, the new 17-game NFL regular season still begins the weekend after Labor Day, which means the third preseason game still provides two weeks of lead time to recover from minor injuries for who play in it.

Tomlin confirmed Thursday that he planned to have “an inclusive mindset” regarding the deployment of his stars on Saturday, the second preseason game. That suggests the only time all preseason fans will get to see TJ Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Diontae Johnson and other stars in action will be while they’re on the field in Jacksonville.

3. Is Bush Burning?

Earlier this week, inside linebacker Devin Bush spoke publicly for the first time since the early stages of training camp. It came a day after Tomlin openly acknowledged the Steelers needed better play from their inside linebackers, particularly in coverage. Bush was poor in that area against the Seahawks after struggling overall in 2021 in his return from a torn ACL he sustained earlier in the 2020 season.

Will Bush come out on fire to prove he’s the player the Steelers traded to select No. 10 overall just 3 1/2 years ago? Bush’s default personality set comes across as nonchalant/happy, but with his career trajectory on the line, making a play or two against the Jaguars could go a long way toward silencing critics of him.

In a race with Robert Spillane to be the No. 2 starter in the ILB alongside Myles Jack, Bush appeared to take more first-team reps last week than he did during the first 2 1/2 weeks of camp. That might have been more of a sign that the coaches were upset with Spillane’s performance against Seattle than anything Bush did, but regardless it should create early opportunities for Bush to make plays against starting-caliber competition on Saturday.

4. ‘Jaylen Warren football’

Upon joining the Steelers three and a half years ago, Benny Snell described his running style as “Benny Snell football.” Snell has been singled out this season as the No. 2 running back behind workhorse Najee Harris, but is Jaylen Warren defending his work?

An undrafted rookie out of Oklahoma State, Warren was productive in college and has proven to be a tough running back with good hands to catch the ball from the backfield during training camp (although those hands have failed him on occasion).

Because Snell and other running backs have missed time in camp with injuries, it’s hard to pin down precisely. But Warren could be about to pass Snell on the depth chart. With Snell out last week against Seattle, Warren had 10 touches for 64 yards and a touchdown. Warren had better fix those bumbling issues, but if he does, he has a good shot at making the season-opening active roster.

5. Oh Canada

In a simulation of preparations for a week of regular-season games, the Steelers made some game plans for the opponent in the last two practices. While, of course, the process was more of a faux “installation” rather than a true full build of one, it will be increasingly interesting to see what the offense looks like under second-year coordinator Matt Canada.

Last year was the first time Canada called plays at the NFL level, and it was doing so while referring in part to an 18-year veteran quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger. This season, Canada should feel more comfortable doing things his way, and they have quarterbacks who are better suited to execute them with Trubisky and Pickett. Especially with those two being the first two quarterbacks to come in, don’t be surprised if Canada tries a novelty or two.

Hey Steelers Nation, get the latest on the Pittsburgh Steelers here.

Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. Chris can be reached via email at cadamski@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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