Last week during his pre-game press conference in preparation for yesterday’s game against the Tennessee Titans, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin told reporters that he would “leave the light on” for everybody on the roster to participate, allowing some injured players to work out before the game to determine whether or not he would play them.
Among those who went through that pre-game warmup were a pair of rookie draft picks, third-round wide receiver Diontae Johnson, who caught a touchdown in the second preseason game, and fourth-round running back Benny Snell, who has gotten more work in the backfield than anybody else on the roster this offseason.
While both of them gave it a go before the game, Tomlin ultimately ruled them out. For Johnson, this is his second game missed in three, as he was held out of the first preseason game due to a separate injury issue. Snell’s roster spot could be said to be more vulnerable.
“We worked them here at the stadium”, Tomlin said after the game of his decision to sit them out. “They missed some time during the week. They’re both young guys, they need in-helmet preparation in order to be given a legitimate chance to play”.
But, he added, “we’ll play those guys next week. Didn’t feel it was appropriate to play them tonight given the time they missed in prep for the game”. It’s also worth noting that it was raining throughout the night, so wet field conditions may have also been a factor in his decision to play them.
From the sounds of it, though, he fully expects them to participate in the preseason finale. If Johnson has any hope of not being a gameday inactive to start the season, he had better be on the field. And as for Snell, he still has some finishing touches to put on to earning his roster spot ahead of Trey Edmunds, who was given some short-yardage work with the first-team offense last night.
Johnson’s preseason debut against the Kansas City Chiefs the last time around was impressive, and more so than the stat sheet would indicate, because it included a 24-yard touchdown grab that was negated by what the officials argued was offensive pass interference. The call stood as called upon challenge, but I believe if it were ruled on the field as no penalty, it would also have stood upon review.
As for Snell, it’s interesting to note that his rushing may arguably have been the weakest part of his game so far. He has shown nice hands and has picked up the rushers in pass protection, even contributing on special teams. He has had some success in short-yardage spots, but many are looking to see him really break out on the ground. That will have to come against the Carolina Panthers now, if at all, this preseason.