Two teams both desperately to put last season behind them meet in Week 1 of the NFL preseason, as the Pittsburgh Steelers host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday night.
The Steelers went 9-6 last season, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2013, with football relegated to an afterthought by events off the field. The Steelers spent the first half of the season locked in tug o’ war with star running back Le’Veon Bell, who sat out the whole campaign after being franchise-tagged for the second consecutive season.
Bell left Pittsburgh as a free agent in the offseason to join the New York Jets, and was followed out of the door by Antonio Brown.
After burning bridges at the franchise he had spent his entire professional career, the seven-time Pro Bowl selection was traded to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for third- and fifth-round picks in this year’s draft.
Without Bell and Brown the Steelers, who also traded right tackle Marcus Gilbert to the Arizona Cardinals, can finally concentrate again on football rather than on the drama unfolding behind the scenes.
Head coach Mike Tomlin was given a one-year extension last month and has his work cut out ahead of his 13th season in charge of the franchise.
The same can be said for Bruce Arians, who replaced Dirk Koetter in the offseason. The Buccaneers ended last season with a 5-11 record for the second consecutive campaign and have now missed the playoffs for the last 11 years.
Arians was joined in Tampa Bay by Todd Bowles, who worked with Arians at the Arizona Cardinals and was fired by the New York Jets last season. The duo will be hoping to improve the Bucs’ dismal running offense and shore-up a defense that conceded 464 points last season, the second-most in the league.
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Friday.
When and where is the game?
The Pittsburgh Steelers host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Kick-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday, August 9.
The game will be broadcast nationally by NFL Network. Local coverage will be CBS-affiliates KDKA-TV and WTSP, with the former covering Pennsylvania and the latter covering Florida.
A live stream will be available via NFL Network online as well as via fuboTV.
Neither the Steelers nor the Bucs will have a full team going into Week 1 of preseason, with both franchises still looking to bring their rosters up to speed.
Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin revealed starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will not feature against Tampa Bay, with Joshua Dobbs starting under center instead.
Back-up quarterbacks Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges are also expected to feature, while safety Sean Davis and linebacker T.J. Watt could miss out due to a finger and hamstring injury respectively.
Among the first-team starters, running back James Conner and star receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster are both expected to feature but are unlikely to be on the field for long.
Similarly, the Bucs are expected to field a largely experimental side. Second-year running back Ronald Jones will be looking to impress after a disappointing rookie season, while Jameis Winston is expected to start under center.
Winston, the first overall pick of the 2015 draft, is expected to turn a corner after a disappointing season. So far the signs are promising, with the quarterback looking to keep things simple.
“Quarterback is such a complex position because you have to know everyone’s job [and] you have different things thrown at you, but I think the art to it is just really making things simple,” he was quoted as saying by ESPN.
“It’s about moving the chains. It’s about a completion here and a completion there. That’s how you know the game really slows down, when you are just able to do that—when that is just second nature.”
As ever in preseason, rookies will be the center of attention.
The Bucs drafted LSU linebacker Devin White with the fifth overall pick and two cornerbacks, Sean Bunting from Central Michigan and Jamel Dean from Auburn, in the second and third round respectively.