COMMENTARY | It's hard to read much into a preseason game, especially the first preseason game of the year. But for guys who are fighting for jobs, every opportunity is a gift.
Let's check out some guys whose stock is rising and whose stock is falling for the Steelers after Week 1 of the preseason:
1. LaRod Stephens-Howling, RB
The much-anticipated debut of rookie RB Le'Veon Bell fell far short of expectations as the former Michigan State Spartan was held out of the game with a sore knee. But one running back did step up against the Giants. And it wasn't who anyone expected.
LaRod Stephens-Howling led the Steelers in both carries and yards on Saturday night, toting the rock seven times for 40 yards, averaging nearly six yards per carry.
After signing with the Steelers in the offseason, the former Arizona Cardinal and Pitt Panther was no lock to make the team. Pittsburgh has a deep backfield and the fight for a roster spot will come down to the wire.
If Stephens-Howling keeps on turning out games like this, however, it'll be hard for Pittsburgh to part ways with the veteran.
2. Al Woods, DL
Coming into the 2013 season, one of the biggest things the Steelers' defense needed to improve on was their defensive line play. The team barely added anything to the unit in the offseason meaning they needed to rely on help from within.
They may have found it.
Al Woods, a fifth-year veteran, had maybe the best game of his professional career on Saturday and the best of any Steelers defender. Woods recorded nine total tackles, two of which came behind the backfield, and a sack on backup QB Ryan Nassib.
Woods has worked both inside and outside this offseason, preparing himself for what looks like an increase in playing time. With Ziggy Hood's underwhelming play continuing and an expiring contract on the books, Pittsburgh may look more to Woods for help on the outside.
But he'll have to keep playing at a high level if he wants to crack the starting lineup.
3. Justin Brown, WR
Admittedly, I wasn't a big fan of the Justin Brown pick for the Steelers. But he could soon be changing my opinion, and that of others.
Brown led the Steelers in both receptions and receiving yards on Saturday, hauling in four passes for 32 yards while being targeted on six attempts. Brown's lone mistake came on a punt return when he was flagged for an illegal block in the third quarter.
With Plaxico Burress sidelined for presumably the rest of the season and the tight end situation a mess, the Steelers will need a big, red-zone target. That's where Brown steps could find his niche.
Brown will do battle with Derek Moye for a shot at making the squad, but he'll still have to prove he can be a valuable red zone option if he wants to make this team.
1. Jason Worilds, OLB
Despite recording a sack on Giants backup QB David Carr, Saturday wasn't a very good night for Jason Worilds.
On a single Giants drive, Worilds was flagged for roughing the passer and unnecessary roughness, all within two plays of each other.
It didn't get better for the veteran outside linebacker after head coach Mike Tomlin yanked him from the game and ripped into him on the sidelines. Not a good sign for a guy entrenched in a battle for a starting spot.
As I said, Worilds did record a sack and most of his mistakes were physical plays. But mental mistakes aren't often tolerated by Tomlin or the Steelers. It also helps Worilds that camp-combatant Jarvis Jones did little to light the world on fire.
Worilds will still enter Week 2 of the preseason as the starter, but he needs to step his game up big time. This is his best and maybe final chance to make an impact for the Steelers. So far, not so good for Worilds.
2. Jonathan Dwyer, RB
Running back Jonathan Dwyer was handed a golden opportunity on Saturday night when it became apparent that Le'Veon Bell would be held out. All eyes would be on him, and he had a shot to take a commanding lead in the running back battle.
Needless to say, he didn't step up to the plate.
Dwyer carried the ball six times for a measly 16 yards, 11 of which came on a single carry. He also caught two passes that totaled negative yardage.
Aside from Stephens-Howling, none of the Steelers' backs dressed to impress for this first preseason matchup. But Dwyer's biggest competition may have just received a leg up without even playing a game.
By most accounts, Dwyer has looked good in camp drills, but that won't be enough to grant him the starting job. He has to start playing better or risk returning to a reserve role.
3. William Gay, CB
Although William Gay didn't have an overall terrible game, one play certainly stood out in the eyes of almost every Steelers fan.
In Gay's triumphant return to the Steel City, the veteran corner got smoked down the field by Victor Cruz for a 57-yard touchdown with just over a minute left in the first quarter.
Gay can't be blamed for the entire play. The Steelers appeared to be in man coverage with two deep safeties and Troy Polamalu failed to secure the over-the-top coverage, leaving the door open for a big play.
But at the end of the day, Cruz was still Gay's man and he beat him. Badly.
With Cortez Allen still dealing with lingering injuries, Gay had an opportunity to at least throw his name in contention for a starting spot. That discussion probably ended with the Cruz touchdown.
BONUS: Stock Rising - Markus Wheaton, WR
Rookie third-rounder Markus Wheaton didn't have the best game on paper. He caught just one pass for eight yards and ran another play for a 10-yard gain. But you could just see how special this guy is going to be.
And he caught the eye of a lot of experts around the game:
"Certain players just pop in preseason. You can see they can play right away. Steelers WR Markus Wheaton is one." -- via Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter)
"You can just tell that Markus Wheaton is going to be a star in this league sooner rather than later" -- via Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib)
Wheaton's speed makes him an immediate threat on the football field and, although you'd like to see the numbers on paper a little higher, the rookie is off to a good start.
Dan Snyder, a 2012 graduate of Temple University, has been covering the Pittsburgh Steelers for over a year now. His work has been published on mainstream sports media sites such as the Bleacher Report. Follow Dan on Twitter @dsnyder34.
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