The Pittsburgh Steelers take on the Seattle Seahawks in their 2022 preseason opener on Saturday night at Acrisure Stadium, and this contest will kick off their show slate. While there will understandably be a lot of eyes on the Steelers 2022 draft picks and other rookies playing Saturday night against the Seahawks, I wanted to highlight eight non-rookie players that I think need to be watched from very close in the first pre-season contest of 2022 as well.
QB Mitch Trubisky – The Steelers signed Trubisky early in free agency and as the team enters its first preseason game, it looks like the former Chicago Bears first-round pick is currently the favorite to open the season regular 2022 as a starter. Trubisky is expected to start on Saturday night against the Seahawks, but he may not have two starting wide receivers to throw in Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool as both missed recent training camp practices with injuries. Either way, Trubisky should be able to play behind an experienced offensive line group on Saturday night. You can bet Trubisky’s Saturday night show will be heavily watched after a start to training camp that included highs mixed with lows. Trubisky played fewer than 35 offensive snaps last season with the Buffalo Bills, so his Saturday night performance should be fun to watch even though it’s a preseason game.
Kendrick Green –After a disastrous rookie season at center for the Steelers, Green has now been moved to left guard, a position he held primarily at the University of Illinois. He is expected to start Saturday night with fellow left Kevin Dotson unlikely to play due to an ankle injury. Green, a 2021 third-round pick, spent quite a bit of time on the court last season as a rookie, so that’s one area of his game that needs to be watched on Saturday night. If he’s serious about making a claim to possibly be the Steelers’ left guard to open the 2022 regular season, the onus will be on him to put on a solid showing Saturday night against the Seahawks.
RB Anthony McFarland Jr. – With two NFL seasons now on the books for McFarland, a former fourth-round draft pick, he managed just 43 total touches on offense in just 108 total offensive snaps played in regular season action. This summer is big for McFarland and there’s no guarantee it’ll end with him making the 53-player Week 1 roster. McFarland started the 2021 season on the Steelers’ injured reserve with an injury. knee and it was not until October 31 that he saw his first match. He also missed several other games last season on the COVID-19 list. Although the Steelers didn’t draft another running back this year, they did add two undrafted free agents in Mataeo Durant and Jaylen Warren. Outside of being a kickoff returner, McFarland doesn’t offer much in the way special teams play, outside of maybe being an emergency returner, so that’s another strike against him. In conclusion, McFarland must have a great pre-season and it starts on Saturday night. McFarland could even start Saturday night.
Gunner WR/RET Olszewski –The Steelers signed Olszewski, an undrafted former free agent, to a two-year, $4.2 million deal in March. In his previous three NFL seasons with the New England Patriots, Olszewski returned 66 punts for 834 yards and a touchdown. He’s also returned 36 total kickoffs so far in the NFL for 834 yards. Olszewski’s resume is bolstered by the fact that he has had 10 career special teams tackles in the NFL to date, including seven in the 2021 season. Olszewski, while listed as a wide receiver, has nine receptions for 127 yards and a touchdown in his first three NFL seasons. Olszewski’s resume to date obviously screams a returner role with the Steelers first and foremost and that’s his main path to the 53-man roster. It will also be interesting to watch how he develops as a wide receiver this summer, as he hasn’t played that much at the NFL level. 253 offensive snaps to date with only nine receptions speaks volumes. He should get some game time Saturday night at wide receiver and maybe even in the slot.
ILB Devin Bush — The former Steelers first-round pick enters the 2022 preseason with several questions about him after an uninspiring 2021 season. Bush is now well past his 2020 knee injury, which can no longer be used as an excuse. Bush is fighting to remain a starter this summer and it looks like veteran linebacker Robert Spillane is pushing him hard in training camp for the job. Bush is thinking of starting Saturday night and he needs to stand out in this first preseason contest. He must be aggressive in picking up blocks and removing them. He must also show improvement in his covering game. The Steelers didn’t pick Bush’s fifth-year option last offseason and that’s saying a lot. Bush expects to play pretty well in the first half against the Seahawks due to the team entering the game with short lines at inside linebacker. We have to speak positively about his game on Sunday.
BY Isaiahh Loudermilk – The Steelers’ fifth-round selection in the 2021 NFL Draft from Wisconsin has played 15 regular-season games as a rookie in addition to the playoff contest alone. Primarily due to injuries sustained on the Steelers defensive line in 2021, Loudermilk recorded a total of 288 defensive snaps in the regular season with another 43 snaps to come on special teams. He finished his rookie season with 23 total tackles, one sack, and three passes defended. The main thing that stood out about Loudermilk’s game in 2021 was his run defense, as that was definitely improving as his rookie season progressed. As a passing thrower, however, Loudermilk’s play during his rookie season left a lot to be desired. Loudermilk must continue to improve as a run blocker this summer and take a big leap forward as a pass thrower as he believes he will be a key part of the rotation in 2022. He is one of many players the Steelers need to get a big leap from the second season from 2022. Loudermilk could start on Saturday night and if he does, it will provide him with a great test.
S Damontae Kazee – The Steelers signed veteran Kazee on the cheap this offseason and with training camp over, it looks like he’s in a good position to make the 53-man roster. Kazee could start Saturday night as a free safety if Minkah Fitzpatrick is ruled out of the contest, and he could also be asked to play a solid safety as well against the Seahawks. With all the buzz centered on the other free agent additions the Steelers made this offseason, Kazee seems like a forgotten man. It would be nice to see him remind everyone that he was also a key part of the defense during the pre-season. Having a strong all-around safety backup on defense is something the Steelers haven’t had in quite a while. Keep an eye out for him Saturday night against the Seahawks.
ILB Buddy Johnson – Due to Johnson’s lack of overall playing time in 2021, we still don’t know much more about the young inside linebacker than we did right after his selection in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft by Texas A&M. Johnson spent most of his rookie season on the team’s weekly inactive roster. While he saw playing time in four regular-season games in 2021, Johnson was mostly used on special teams and to the tune of 59 snaps overall. He only had six total defensive snaps played for the Steelers as a rookie. A foot injury caused Johnson to miss the final four games of the regular season and he was placed on the reserve/injured list for playoff week. Saturday night in the preseason opener against the Seahawks, Johnson thinks he has plenty of playing time and maybe alongside rookie inside linebacker Mark Robinson. This duo could even play the entire second half of the contest. Johnson will likely see an early burn on special teams Saturday night, so that’s something else to watch. The Steelers are likely to keep five inside linebackers on their 53-man roster to start the 2022 regular season and Johnson is certainly in contention to be the fourth or fifth. It would be great to see him make some hard-hitting plays on Saturday night both on special teams and on defense.