Steelers Beat Writer

Dale Lolley is a contributor to the Observer-Reporter and has been covering the Pittsburgh Steelers since 1993.

It was one preseason game, and the offense was very vanilla in terms of presnap movement and all of the bells and whistles, but the Steelers seem to be picking up new offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s offense.

At least that was Mike Tomlin’s feeling coming out of the Steelers’ 16-3 win Thursday night in their preseason opener against the Cowboys at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.

“I thought they did a nice job, particularly from a play clock standpoint,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said of quarterbacks Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins and Josh Dobbs, who all led the offense in this game with Ben Roethlisberger and a number of veterans sitting out.

“New verbiage and things of that nature, first time in a stadium with a real play clock is very difficult for us to simulate in practice settings. I thought they did a nice job managing some of those things, but largely I thought all of their performances were positive.”

Of course, the player everyone really wanted to see was first-round running back Najee Harris. And while his final stat line – seven carries for 22 yards and one reception for three yards – wasn’t overwhelming, he passed the eye test as expected.

Harris consistently fell forward, something that was missing in this offense last season. So, if the blocking wasn’t there, he still fell forward for a yard or two.

Perhaps more important, he stepped up and handled things well in blitz pickup when called upon.

“I thought that he showed some of the things that he’s been showing in a practice setting,” Tomlin said. “And that’s what we were looking for; we weren’t looking for the spectacular. I talked to him and others over the course of the week. We wanted to make routine plays routinely. We wanted the pile to fall forward and things of that nature, and he did all of the things that we’ve been watching him do, so it’s a really good start for him.”

It will only continue to get better as the offensive line comes together and gets more healthy. There was only one presumptive starter on the line playing in this game, rookie center Kendrick Green.

The Steelers held veteran guard Trai Turner, signed to replace David DeCastro, out of this JV contest. Tackles Chuks Okorafor and Zach Banner and guard Kevin Dotson all are still nursing minor injuries or coming back off injury.

They will start being worked in this week and we could see them on the field when the Steelers play their second preseason game next Thursday night in Philadelphia.

And then we’ll see what this whole thing is starting to look like.

  • So, wide receiver James Washington has requested a trade from the Steelers.

That’s not surprising given his usage in Thursday night’s game. Washington played behind Ray-Ray McCloud on offense, a real kick in the teeth for a player who led the team in receiving yards in 2019.

Washington has done nothing wrong. He’s a solid wide receiver. But he saw his snap count dip to a career-low 44 percent in 2020 and it’s trending toward falling even lower this season because he doesn’t necessarily fit into Canada’s offense, which uses a lot of jet sweep motion and such.

But McCloud might not even be the player who sees more playing time than Washington. Running back Anthony McFarland would be more scary in that role, though he was coming off a thigh injury and played sparingly in this game.

Washington, who is heading into the final year of his rookie contract, is likely looking at things and feeling like he isn’t going to get as many opportunities as he got even last year. That’s not good when you’re heading into free agency.

It’s hard to blame Washington for wanting out.

  • Nobody should be happier than the Steelers to see Josh Allen signed to a 6-year, $258-million contract by the Buffalo Bills.

That puts even more pressure on the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns to do something similar with Lamar Jackson and Baker Mayfield, respectively.

Jackson has a league MVP award under his belt already. Think he’ll want more money than Allen?

And Mayfield might not be quite on that level, but he’s going to want a contract that approaches $40 million per year.

The years those two franchises have had without having to pay their quarterback what is now the going rate are nearly over.

  • Art Rooney said last week that the Steelers would like to get a new contract done with linebacker T.J. Watt before the start of the regular season.

And it seems likely that $25 million or so per season will be what Watt will be seeking. That used to be “quarterback money.”

But with Allen, Patrick Maholmes and Dak Prescott all signing contracts that average $40 or more million per season, $40 million is the new $25 million.

Dale Lolley covers the Steelers for DKPittsburghSports.com and writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.

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