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Steelers preseason Game 4 preview: Who’s hot, who’s not, who’s getting a shot

September 23, 2018
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Steelers linebacker Matthew Thomas provides coverage on tight end Bucky Hodges during practice Aug. 7, 2018, at Saint Vincent College.

The Carolina Panthers arrive for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ annual preseason finale, which means final roster cuts aren’t far behind. With one last chance for players to make a case for inclusion on the 53-man roster, here’s a look at who’s hot, who’s not and who’s getting a shot to impress the coaching staff:

WHO’S HOT

Ryan Switzer: The punt returner who wowed in college at North Carolina will make his Steelers debut against the Panthers. Switzer is with his third team in five months, and the Steelers traded for him to provide a spark in the return game. He’ll also be returning to Heinz Field, where he brought back a pair of punts for touchdowns against Pitt.

Matthew Thomas: The Steelers showed confidence in the undrafted linebacker by using him with the first-team defense in subpackages against Tennessee. Thomas flashed his impressive speed in the previous preseason game and appears to be playing his way onto the 53-man roster. Another strong showing against the Panthers would solidify it.

Chuks Okorafor: The jumbo package, in which the Steelers deploy a fullback and extra tight end, was unveiled for the first time in the preseason against Tennessee. Okorafor, the rookie third-rounder, got the call as an extra blocker. It was just another step forward for Okorafor, who will be thrust into the swing tackle role this year unless the Steelers add a veteran before the start of the season.

WHO’S NOT

Marcus Tucker: The acquisition of Switzer, who can be used as a slot receiver, limits Tucker’s chances to make a 53-man roster for the first time in his career. Compounding Tucker’s chances is an injury that kept him from playing against the Titans and likely will sideline him against the Panthers.

Jordan Berry: Maybe coach Mike Tomlin was just trying to motivate his veteran punter when he said competition remains open for his starting job. But after a poor showing in Green Bay, Berry watched Matt Wile put up better numbers in average and net yards against Tennessee. He could be trying to save his roster spot against Carolina.

Quadree Henderson: No player left on the 90-man roster faces a steeper climb to earning a roster spot than Henderson, who was impacted the most by the trade for Switzer. Henderson returned two punts for 14 yards in the second half against Tennessee and didn’t get a chance to return a kickoff. The undrafted free agent needed an exceptional camp to make the team. So far, he’s come up short.

WHO’S GETTING A SHOT

Josh Dobbs: The path to earning a job as a fourth quarterback is a long one for Dobbs, but he also will be auditioning for 31 other teams when he gets the start against Carolina. Dobbs has played well when given the chance and another team might want to take a flyer on a second-year passer who has shown the ability to also make plays with his legs.

Matt Wile: He was given a chance to placekick against Green Bay, and then he had a net average of 48.3 yards on his three punts against Tennessee. Wile dropped two of his punts inside the 20. Wile also is a cheaper alternative than Berry, who will make $1.907 million as a restricted free agent. And he has that placekicking experience, which could come in handy in the event of an injury to Chris Boswell.

Bucky Hodges: With three veteran tight ends on the sideline Thursday, Hodges figures to get extended playing time in the preseason finale. Injuries to Vance McDonald and Xavier Grimble have opened the door for Hodges to work with the first and second teams. It’s doubtful the Steelers will keep a fourth tight end, but Hodges could enter the picture if the Steelers believe the injuries to McDonald or Grimble will extend into the regular season.

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