For many years, when Ben Roethlisberger was on the back-nine of his career, the Pittsburgh Steelers' starting offense's preseason workload was at most one-half of snaps during the third preseason game. That will not be the case this preseason, however, as every healthy member of the Steelers roster will suit up for Friday night's preseason opener in Tampa.
While not many preseason debuts are highly anticipated, Steelers fans are champing at the bit to see Kenny Pickett take the field for the start of his first full season as starting quarterback. They'll get their wish on Friday night, as Pickett will look to build off of what has been a successful training camp so far. Pre-snap recognition, Pickett recently said, has been one of the biggest adjustments he's made so far this summer.
"I'd just say recognition pre-snap, understanding my answers and what I have available to me, being able to signal certain things and change stuff at the line," Pickett said, via the team's website. "Doing a lot more than I did last year. I feel comfortable with the system and I'm getting towards that ownership aspect which I've been pushing for."
Along with Pickett, the Steelers' starting offense returns running back Najee Harris, receivers Diontae Johnson and George Pickens, tight end Pat Freiermuth, and offensive linemen Dan Moore Jr., Mason Cole, James Daniels and Chukwuma Okorafor. New to the offense this season include former Pro Bowl receiver Allen Robinson, receiver Calvin Austin III (who was injured all of last season), and rookies Broderick Jones and Darnell Washington.
Another notable member of the Steelers offense is second-year tight end Connor Heyward, who made several big plays during the first two weeks of camp.
"Completely different," Heywardwhen asked to compare his comfort level to his rookie training camp. "Honestly, I feel 100 times more comfortable. The playbook, just being out here in Latrobe, being around the guys for a full year. Obviously we have new guys, new additions. But for the most part, I'm extremely comfortable just being out here. The intensity is still going to be there, but it's a different feeling coming in from Year 1 to Year 2."
Also making his NFL debut is cornerback Joey Porter Jr., who spent his first two weeks of camp engaged in spirited matchups with Pickens. Porter and the rest of the Steelers defense will test their mettle against former first-round pick Baker Mayfield, who is in a position battle against Kyle Trask. Mayfield went 3-5 in his career against Pittsburgh during his time with the Cleveland Browns.
Other notable players who will make their Steelers debuts on Friday include eight-time Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson, rookie defensive lineman Keeanu Benton, rookie pass rusher Nate Herbig, inside linebackers Cole Holcomb, Elandon Roberts and Kwon Alexander, safety Keanu Neal and offensive linemen Nick Herbig and Isaac Seumalo.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said he is hoping to see "fundamental things, individually and collectively" from his team on Friday night. He wants to see his team play fast, be situationally aware and make plays routinely. He also wants to see Pittsburgh play complementary football.
"The complementary component is something that is really important," Tomlin said, "because you don't get that in a practice setting. It's iron on iron. But on Friday night, we'll play together, and I want to field groups that display awareness in that regard and complement one another."
Tomlin said the Steelers would "play it by ear" regarding how much Pickett and the rest of the starters will play on Friday night.
"We'll give (Pickett) what he needs," Tomlin said, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "It's always my mentality that I'm open to all that are healthy playing. How much they play will be determined by what it is they need for it to be a productive step in the process this week.
"Then, we'll deal with next week, next week."