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What to Look for in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Fourth Preseason Game vs. the Buffalo Bills


On this upcoming Tuesday the first cuts of the 2015 NFL season will take place, thus meaning many of the players participating in Pittsburgh's game at Buffalo Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. ET will be playing in their final game.

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Of course, if the player is playing in his final NFL game, and this game is only an exhibition, very few fans will want him to be playing in any other NFL games in the future.

On that cynical thought, here's what to look for when the Steelers play the Bills, which will be broadcast on the NFL Network. 

1. Will Michael Vick Play?

The real reason to watch preseason football is to see just how good the backup quarterbacks are. Now, it's a chance to potentially see Vick's first action as a Steeler.

On Thursday head coach Mike Tomlin indicated he did not know if Vick would play Saturday. But it would seem the Steelers are not committing $1 million for Vick to be their third-string option.

If he does play, it will lay waste the coaching excuses that it takes vast amounts of time to learn an offense, if that concept isn't blown away by the fact Vick comes in less than two weeks before the season starts. Vick has been playing football for more than 20 years. He can handle handing the ball off and where receivers should be on post patterns.

If he doesn't, could it be Landry Jones' last stand? Jones has received so much playing time this preseason he has thrown for more yards (500) than any other quarterback this preseason. But one figures he'll have to continue to perform as he did at the end of the Green Bay game to be back for a third year on the Steelers' roster.

One interesting aspect on the Vick signing is it potentially gives the Steelers an option for goal-line and 2-point situations, though that hasn't been utilized this preseason with quarterback/wide receiver Tyler Murphy.

Related: Pittsburgh Steelers Sign Michael Vick — A Question of Team Character?

2. Where Does That Leave Tyler Murphy?

To date Murphy has caught six passes for 78 yards and a touchdown. Against Green Bay he made two key catches, first for a 22-yard touchdown to pull the Steelers within a point of the lead in the fourth quarter, then another for 25 yards on 3rd-and-6 that served as the key play prior to Shakim Phillips' game-winning, 20-yard catch.

Phillips himself has averaged 17 yards on six catches this preseason, including a great 35-yard, one-handed grab against Minnesota in the Hall of Fame Game to set up the Steelers' only score in a 14-3 loss. He also dropped a couple of passes against Jacksonville that practically erased that image from fans' minds, but at press time he was still one of only 10 wide receivers to haul in 100 yards this preseason.

With Martavis Bryant potentially suspended the first four games for drug use, a third wide receiver must be found. Happily, it seems the Steelers have plenty of options.

Veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey has quietly caught four passes this preseason, one more than he caught in all of the 2014 regular season, and is said to be the leading option as the third wideout. But rookie third-round pick Sammie Coates leads the AFC with 124 preseason receiving yards. Even long shot C.J. Goodwin, 25, a local product cut by the Steelers last preseason, has caught four passes thus far, including one for a touchdown, and started against Minnesota. Goodwin did not play against Green Bay due to injury.

The Steelers generally dressed only five or six wide receivers last season, and as a third-round selection this season Coates is going to make the team. That leaves Murphy, Phillips, Goodwin and potentially Heyward-Bey as the one receiver on the outside looking in when the Steelers play New England to open the season.

What makes Murphy such an interesting wild card is his ability to play quarterback, as he did in the Hall of Fame game. If the Steelers were ever down to having to play their third-string quarterback, it would seem Murphy's legs might be the sort of improvisation needed to succeed in such a situation.

3. How Much Time Will the Starters Play?

Tomlin has hinted quarterback Ben Roethlisberger could play into the second half. After so many players have been injured this preseason, one wonders if it is worth it, but traditionally the next-to-last preseason game is when starters receive their longest action.

What player is playing and when could lend to insights as to who will make the team. Furthermore, will running back DeAngelo Williams get a longer stint this week, since he will be the starter in Week 1 of the regular season, and then used sparingly in the final preseason game Sept. 3 in an attempt to keep him healthy, or will Le'Veon Bell continue to see his regular action with the first team?

One interesting note about the starters, linebacker Ryan Shazier is leading the NFL in tackles this preseason with 16, though he has often played longer stints in games than most Steelers on the first team have.

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4. How Will Cody Wallace and Doug Legursky Play?

In the 1990s, when Bill Belichick's Cleveland Browns were trying in vain to catch the Steelers for division supremacy, Browns center Steve Everitt was developing a reputation as a quality center around the league but became a whipping boy in Cleveland media as frustrations about the Browns' shortcomings became prevalent.

"Just focus in on him when you watch the game!" a Cleveland talk show host told his listeners, which led one to ask who, outside of the Browns' offensive line coach, is so petty and so looking to sharpen long knives they would otherwise ignore the other action in a football game in an effort to gain critical talking points against the center.

But with the left ankle injury to starting center Maurkice Pouncey, one might want to pass a glance or two at who is playing center, Wallace or Legursky?

In years gone by, Legursky filled in when Pouncey was injured for Super Bowl XLV and the divisional playoff loss to the Denver Broncos the following season. Wallace started the final four games of the 2013 season, and was impressive enough, as the Steelers won three of the four games he started, that he was signed to a three-year contract in the offseason.

Generally speaking, centers aren't noticed unless they have a bad snap. So see if that happens, and perhaps give a look at how often runs go up the middle when Wallace and Legursky is feeding the ball to the quarterback.

There has been some talk Pouncey might be able to return for the end of this season. Hopefully, fans won't be ignoring ball movement and screaming "SEE! He let the guy go past! The running back had to pick up the block and it moved Roethlisberger from the pocket!" by that time.

5. Josh Harris or Jawon Chisholm?

"There's a certain level of urgency that comes with getting back. Those that are injured, like Josh Harris, it's a big week for him." So said Tomlin after the Steelers' 24-19 victory against Green Bay on Sunday.

Harris, a second-year running back out of Wake Forest, was projected to be DeAngelo Williams' backup for the first two games of the season and a potential short-yardage specialist.

Instead, a foot injury suffered in Jacksonville has limited Harris to seven snaps this year and two carries, while free agent Chisholm has taken his place. Truthfully, Chisholm hasn't done much this preseason, gaining 35 yards on 20 carries. But he wasn't even on the team until August, so his stock has been rising. And he hasn't been called out by the coach, either.

Chisholm is a Harrisburg, Pa., native who went to Akron. The rookie is 6-1 and weighs 206 pounds, while Harris, who carried the ball nine times for the Steelers last year, stands 5-11, and weighs 210 pounds. In what is likely a typo, the roster at lists Chisholm as 19 years old, but his bio from Akron lists him as being born Sept. 19, 1991. 

Harris is 24. 

(Michael Vick photo courtesy of

— 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.