The Pittsburgh Steelers’ sloppy, injury-filled loss to the Washington Redskins in the team’s second preseason game certainly looked ugly, but the results were actually quite encouraging for Steelers fans.
Sure, running backs Le’Veon Bell and Baron Batch and fullback Will Johnson left with injuries, but that doesn’t mean that the 24-13 defeat was all bad.
In fact, there were five different positive signs from the contest that bode well for the upcoming season.
Bell Isn’t the Only Answer at RB
While Bell’s injury will be the biggest story to emerge from the game, the solid play of Jonathan Dwyer in his absence is very significant.
Early reports from training camp indicated that head coach Mike Tomlin was impressed by the rookie, yet he was hesitant to name a starter.
Now that Bell suffered some form of “mid-foot injury” in addition to his lingering knee injury, it’s clear that Dwyer will get his shot at earning the top spot on the depth chart.
Dwyer led the team in rushing last year, but he showed up to camp out of shape, angering Tomlin.
But he rebounded in a big way against the Redskins, turning 14 carries into 68 yards. He lost a fumble but still impressed coaches with his effort.
Many observers, like the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Dejan Kovacevic, feel that Dwyer’s been the leader to start all along, but this game might’ve sealed the deal:
Dwyer's been my pick to click all summer, and I'm sticking by him even though he ticked off Tomlin by taking too long to get into prime shape, even though (Isaac) Redman should still play when he's back from a pinched nerve, even though Bell should still come with high expectations and, yeah, even though it took both those guys plus LaRod Stephens-Howling plus Batch going down with injuries for Dwyer to get this chance.
While Bell got a lot of hype during training camp, this game showed that Dwyer should be a formidable option during the year.
Wheaton is a Weapon
Markus Wheaton, Pittsburgh’s third-round pick from Oregon State, earned rave reviews during training camp, but he truly put on a show against Washington.
Not only did he lead the team in receiving with three catches for 52 yards, but he also caught a beautiful 45-yard bomb from backup quarterback Landry Jones to set up the team’s lone touchdown.
Late in the fourth, Wheaton also managed to show off his incredible speed when he reversed the field on a short pass play.
The play was ultimately for no gain, but he juked almost the entire Washington defense out of their shoes multiple times.
Safety Ryan Clark is already comparing Wheaton favorably to Mike Wallace, and this game made it clear that those comparisons are justified.
Jones Still a “Machine”
The outside linebacker opposite LaMarr Woodley may still belong to Jason Worilds, but rookie Jarvis Jones is making a solid play for the position.
Jones forced a monstrous fumble from Rex Grossman in the second quarter, bolstering his growing reputation as a “turnover machine” among teammates like Ike Taylor.
Ike Taylor told me Jarvis Jones is "a turnover machine" on today's podcast. The Machine is in fine working order. http://t.co/7f7RcMeLlk
— Dave Dameshek (@Dameshek) August 20, 2013
The first-round pick may still be a little raw in pass coverage, but if he keeps making plays like this, Worilds may be relegated to the bench sooner rather than later.
Paulson a Good Stopgap
With Heath Miller, David Johnson and Matt Spaeth all dealing with injuries, tight end is a very thin position for the Steelers.
Yet last year’s seventh-round pick, David Paulson, is starting to ease concerns with his performance of late.
His primary role will probably be as a blocker, but he caught a laser from Ben Roethlisberger late in the first quarter to set up the team’s first field goal.
The 26-yard catch wouldn’t mean much for a pass catcher like Miller, but for a blocker like Paulson, it was an encouraging sign that he could be part of the passing game going forward.
SteelCityInsider.net recently reported that his teammates were raving about his receiving abilities in practice, and the Washington game only reinforced these impressions.
He’ll likely only be a temporary replacement until the various other tight ends get healthy, but these positive signs show why the team was confident enough to refrain from signing another player at the position.
No Knee Problems for Ben
After some troubling news a few weeks ago that Roethlisberger was still experiencing pain after an arthroscopic procedure on his knee early this summer, he dispelled any worry with some limber moves in his time on the field.
He looked particularly nimble in a pair of back-to-back plays in the first quarter.
After getting a first down on a Dwyer run, Roethlisberger scrambled for five yards, avoiding several defenders.
However, the play got called back for holding on guard David DeCastro.
Roethlisberger responded by dropping back, dancing around a few Redskins and finding Antonio Brown 20 yards downfield for another first down.
If the knee is bothering him, it certainly isn’t showing.
All in all, these little tidbits might seem minor, but for a team with a lot of questions still unresolved on the roster, they’re very promising indeed.
Now, the team will return home to play Kansas City, where things should only get clearer.