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One Last Time to Shine

Sharon Thorsland
August 30, 2018 - 11:12 am

It's time for the always exciting fourth preseason game, when few, if any, starters play, and plenty of guys that won't be on the roster next week get featured roles. It's the Panthers taking on the Steelers in Pittsburgh, kick-off is set for 7:30 Thursday night on WBT.  But that doesn't mean this game won't have some drama – the Panthers are looking for a backup quarterback and Taylor Heinicke and Garrett Gilbert are neck and neck heading into this game. Several other positions have so much talent that it's going to be tough to decide who makes the final roster, including receiver and running back. The season finale is the last chance these guys get to make an impression on coaches, and Elijah Hood is ready. The second-year running back out of North Carolina has a plan. “Try to put my best foot forward, go out there and make a lot of plays,” said Hood. “I'm expecting to get some more snaps. Hopefully, I can translate that into some big plays for the team.”

The Steelers will provide a great test, even if most of their stars are on the sidelines. They finished last season 13-3 before falling to the Jaguars in the playoffs. They're expected to be just as good this season, with 15-year veteran Ben Roethlisberger leading an offense that ranked 3rd in the NFL last season. But Big Ben won't make an appearance in this game because the Steelers have their own backup QB race going on, except it's for the third-string role behind Landry Jones. So second-year player Joshua Dobbs will start the game, with rookie Mason Rudolph first off the bench. Rookie receiver James Washington will see plenty of action, and keep an eye out for former Tar Heel standout Ryan Switzer, who was just picked up in a trade with Oakland. All-Pro running back Le'Veon Bell is nowhere to be found as he holds out for a new contract, so look for second-year back James Conner to get the start. Former NC State standout Jaylen Samuels should also get plenty of reps.

The Steelers defense has long been known for its tough, physical play. They ranked 5th in the NFL last season and led the league with 56 sacks. Pro Bowl linebacker Ryan Shazier remains out after suffering a severe spinal injury last season, so the Steelers brought in former Colt Jon Bostic to team with Vince Williams inside. And undrafted rookie Matthew Thomas is someone to watch – the former Florida State standout has been making plenty of plays in camp. Hard-hitting safety Mike Mitchell is gone, replaced by former Packer Morgan Burnett. First-round draft pick Terrell Edmunds is making a case for a starting role. “You know, they've always been one of the better defenses for years,” said Panther receiver Torrey Smith “A lot of playmakers. It's going to be a fun test, I think our guys are going to do well.

Smith knows how big this game is for those young guys - with roster cuts coming this weekend, tonight is the final opportunity for guys to show what they can do. “Just go out and have fun,” said Smith. “They've got an opportunity to play and shine and get one more chance to impress, not only this team but other teams around the league.”

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