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Back-ups give team a good foundation

For years, program sellers have bellowed, “You can’t tell the players without a program.” That old adage was certainly true Friday night when the Pittsburgh Steelers hosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Heinz field.

The Steelers won 30-28, but the score was truly unimportant. What was important was the amount of exposure and field time that the second, third and fourth units received. On the offensive side of the ball, head coach Mike Tomlin held out his entire projected starting lineup. Only a handful of defensive regulars saw action. Nose tackle Javon Hargrave did an excellent job of tying up blockers, as he shared time with his backup, Dan McCullers. Devin Bush and Mark Barron started at the inside linebacker posts with Terrell Edmunds lined up at strong safety.

SHINING

Bush repeatedly showed why the Steelers traded up 10 slots to select him in the draft. The rookie was in on 10 tackles, seven of them unassisted. He was able to pursue sideline to sideline.

He just missed intercepting a pass inside Tampa Bay’s 25-yard line which he probably would have easily returned for a touchdown.

After scoring on their first possession, the Buccaneers looked to be on their way to a second consecutive touchdown as the first quarter ended. However, in the opening minutes of the second quarter, the Steelers’ defense stymied Tampa Bay on fourth-and-inches at the Steelers’ 16. Bush, Edmunds and Ola Adeniyi were in on the stop as McCullers provided an excellent push from his nose tackle spot.

Twice, Adeniyi made the tackle on kickoffs. Sixth-round pick Ulysees Gilbert III also made a case for a spot on the 53-man roster with his play at outside linebacker. Gilbert had 1.5 sacks and four quarterback hits. Plus, he looked good on special teams.

Bush appears to be able to fill the void in Pittsburgh’s defense that has existed since Ryan Shazier’s injury in 2017.

QUARTERBACKS

All three backup quarterbacks did well for the Steelers. Josh Dobbs excited the crowd as he wove his way 36 yards to the Bucs’ 17-yard line in the second quarter. Dobbs completed five of eight passes for 85 yards. He looked very comfortable going through his progessions and being willing to hit his checkdown backs when the deep receivers were covered.

Mason Rudolph displayed his strong arm when he entered the game with about five minutes remaining in the second quarter. Rudolph also completed five of eight passes. He teamed up with James Washington and rookie tight end Zach Gentry on scoring aerials. Rudolph’s footwork is noticeably more refined than it was a year ago.

Do not be surprised if either Dobbs or Rudolph is traded later in the preseason for a late-round pick in the 2019 draft.

Fourth-string quarterback Devlin Hodges played the fourth quarter and gave a good accounting of himself, going 8-for-14. Hodges showed that he is worthy of being some NFL team’s practice squad.

STRUGGLED

Fourth-round pick Benny Snell struggled at times, but did show a couple of flashes, gaining 26 yards on 13 carries. Offensive tackle Chukwuma Okorafor was flagged twice for holding penalties. Rookie guard Fred Johnson and tackle Zach Banner miscommunicated on a twist move by the Tampa Bay defense, resulting in Dobbs getting sacked. After he settled in, Johnson played fairly well after that, keeping himself in the mix for a spot on the practice squad.

THIS WEEK

The last practice open to the public at St. Vincent College is Thursday. After that, practices will be held at the team’s training facility on Pittsburgh’s South Side and will be closed to the public.

The Steelers host the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m.