The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their third preseason game of 2019 Sunday night on the road against the Tennessee Titans and this contest should give us a chance to see quite a few first-team players playing quite a few snaps in the contest. Additionally, a few backups should also receive more valuable playable time Sunday night in Nashville with a few of those players being members of this year’s draft class. Below are 8 defensive players that Steelers fans will likely want to watch closely Sunday night against the Titans along with reasons why.
ILB Devin Bush – The Steelers first-round draft pick this year put on quite a show in the team’s preseason debut with 10 total tackles in 40 total defensive snaps played. A shoulder injury, however, prevented Bush from playing in the Steelers second preseason game last Saturday night. Against the titans Sunday night, Bush will likely start once again and play the entire first half at a minimum. The Michigan product is on course to be the team’s starter in Week 1 and it will be interesting to see if he can put on another exhibition show in Nashville. Will Bush be allowed to rush the opposing quarterback more in his second preseason game? We’ll see, but regardless he should be a Steelers player all watch closely Sunday night.
OLB Sutton Smith – Like sand through an hourglass, time is running out for Smith, the Steelers first of three sixth-round draft picks this year. After missing the Steelers first two preseason games with an abdominal injury of some sort, Smith is finally expected to make his NFL preseason debut Sunday night against the Tennessee Titans. While the northern Illinois product will likely see some playing time at left outside linebacker against the Titans, how he plays on special teams throughout the contest will be even more important. As things stand right now, Smith needs to make a few big plays on special teams in the Steelers final two preseason games if he wants to have a legitimate shot at making the initial 53-man roster. He’s not even a shoo-in to make the Steelers practice squad right now, either.
S Kameron Kelly – The buzz about Kelly has slowly built ever since the start of OTA practices. On the surface, it appears almost certain that he will make the Steelers 53-man roster as a backup safety. Sunday night against the Titans Kelly will likely receive another long look in the second-team defense and because of that he should have a lot of eyes on him throughout the contest. Additionally, Kelly only played three special teams snaps in the second preseason game after playing eight in the opener. He’ll likely get a lot of burn on special teams again Sunday night and it will be interesting to see if he’s on any of the first-team units that coordinator Danny Smith employs.
CB Justin Layne – Layne had a decent rebound preseason game last Saturday night after an awful debut. The Michigan State product and second of two third-round draft picks this year might be the starting gunner on special teams Sunday night against the Titans and so that’s one reason to pay close attention to him. Additionally, Layne is almost certain to receive a lot of second half playing time as an outside cornerback against the Titans and thus it will be interesting to see if he’s able to fair well against the competition he’s asked to play against
ILB Ulysees Gilbert III – through two preseason games, Gilbert, another one of the team’s sixth-round draft picks this year, has registered 6 total defensive tackles, 1.5 sacks, four quarterback hits and a forced fumble. He’s even intercepted a two-point pass play and chipped in a special team tackle to boot. Gilbert has a legitimate shot at making the Steelers 53-man roster with two preseason games remaining but needs two more good showings to seal the deal or at the very least, make himself very hard to cut. Gilbert could use more special teams work starting Sunday night against the Titans and needs to outplay the aforementioned Smith in that phase if possible.
OLB Tuzar Skipper – At worst, Skipper, a rookie undrafted free agent this year out of Toledo, seems to be headed for the Steelers practice squad. That said, he still has an outside shot at making the 53-man roster due to Olasunkanmi Adeniyi currently dealing with meniscus surgery recovery. Heck, even Anthony Chickillo is currently banged up right now and might not play Sunday night against the Titans. Skipper has done some great things as a pass rusher in the first two preseason games of 2019 but we’ve yet to see him make any sort of real splash on special teams, a must for backup Steelers linebackers.
OLB Jayrone Elliott – The Steelers signed Elliott to the roster just a few days ago and he might get some late action Sunday night against the Titans at the right outside linebacker spot and opposite another recent newcomer in Christian Kuntz. Elliott, yet another MAC product out of Toledo, put on a show this past spring in the AAF as a pass rusher. He’s had quite a bit of previous preseason and regular season action so it will be interesting to see if he can provide some splash late if given the opportunity to do so. These next two games figure to include Elliott getting quite a few pass rushing snaps.
DT Henry Mondeaux – After a nice shoeing in the Steelers first two preseason games, Mondeaux appears almost certain to land on the team’s practice squad a few weeks from now and especially now that fellow defensive lineman Lavon Hooks has been lost for the entire year due to an Achilles injury. After the Steelers starters and second team players exit Sunday night, Mondeaux will likely be asked to close out the game and especially in base personnel groupings.