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Five Things to Watch in Sunday's Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Green Bay Packers Preseason Game

Ryan Shazier

Ryan Shazier

Preseason is at midpoint! Less than three weeks until Pittsburgh helps kick off the 2015 NFL regular season on the road against defending Super Bowl champion New England.

Perhaps "Opening Day" is a term reserved for baseball. Regardless, here's what to look for when the Steelers play the Green Bay Packers this Sunday at 1 p.m. ET at Heinz Field. The game, for those interested in watching preseason action, will be televised by the NFL Network.

1. Who’s at quarterback?

You know things have been pretty bad in the first two preseason games if people are actually excited about Bruce Gradkowski getting into a game.

But since Landry Jones' has produced a grand total of one touchdown in his last 40 preseason drives, and that was a 17-yard march in the fourth quarter last week against Jacksonville's scrubs, it would be nice if the Steelers could score more often after Ben Roethlisberger has his reps.

So when will Gradkowski play and for how long? Does Jones continue to get extended time? Does he get booed?

And since Tahj Boyd was cut, what does that mean for Tyler Murphy? Will he get any extended time and be groomed to be a third-string quarterback who will possibly come in for 2-point conversions, the way some are theorizing Tim Tebow is being groomed by Philadelphia or Kordell Stewart came in to play quarterback in goal-line situations in 1995?

This will be a fun storyline to follow until two weeks from now when Steelers fans essentially hope none of the quarterbacks who figure to play this Sunday will actually play.

2. Ryan Shazier and the development of the front seven

After a sluggish, injury-plagued rookie season, Shazier has made some big stops this preseason from inside linebacker and even asked the coaching staff to let him play in the third quarter.

Is this a matter of feasting against scrubs or returning worth from his first-round draft status? Time will tell, but the initial signs this year are positive.

Also, take note of the different fronts the Steelers' front seven plays, as well as their stance. Players have been standing instead of lining up in a traditional three-point stance at times.

3. Better play from the safeties?

Perhaps the best news to come out of training camp this week is starting safeties Shamarko Thomas and Mike Mitchell are playing together on the first string for the first time. Mitchell had previously been sidelined by a hamstring injury.

Touchdowns were scored against the Steelers in the first two preseason games in large part because of breakdowns by the safeties not being in the right place, and a third touchdown was avoided last week against Jacksonville only because Clay Harbour dropped a pass in the flat with 9:07 left in the second quarter.

Thomas and Mitchell figure only to play for a quarter or two against the Packers. But like Ben Roethlisberger's lone drive of the preseason, a six-play, 80-yard march resulting in a touchdown complete with 2-point conversion, has quelled fears about the offense, a flawless game from Mitchell and Thomas against Aaron Rodgers would do the same about what is perceived as the Steelers' Achilles' heel.

4. Will a new attendance record be set?

With an expansion of seats beneath the main scoreboard by Gate A this summer, Heinz Field’s seating capacity now stands at 68,400.

The current attendance record at Heinz Field for a Steelers game is 66,662 for the 2010-11 AFC Championship Game. A Pitt-West Virginia football game in 2002 drew 66,731.

The largest crowd ever to see a sporting event in Pittsburgh was 68,918 to see Pitt's 24-13 victory against Fordham in 1938 at Pitt Stadium. This record will likely fall this year; it is just a matter of when.

5. Will the receivers grow hands?

Tight end Jesse James did. But after making a sensational one-handed catch in the Hall of Fame Game rookie Shakim Phillips had multiple drops against Jacksonville.

Dropped passes have plagued the Steelers this preseason. They've been the main defense of Jones' play, and are a primary reason why the team is 0-2 this preseason.

— Written by Marky Billson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. An experienced beat reporter and sports writer, Billson has been a contributor to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 15 years. He has covered the Steelers, Panthers, MLB and more during his career. Follow him on Twitter @MarkyBillson.