Say it with me, “Football! Is! Back!” With the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys kicking off the annual Hall of Fame Game, we got a taste of the NFL for the first time since February. Plenty of talent was fighting for their roster spot, so let’s look at Thursday’s winners and losers.
Winner – Rico Dowdle and Kalen Ballage
Both of these running backs are on the roster bubble, but they made good cases for themselves tonight. Dowdle has some tough sledding to start the game but looked much improved after breaking off a 25-yard run. After gaining some momentum, Dowdle looked like the best RB to play for Dallas on Thursday. Granted, Pollard only received two carries, but you get the point.
Kalen Ballage has bounced around the league since being drafted by Miami in 2018, but I think he certainly deserves a spot in Pittsburgh. He showed some success late last year in Los Angeles and carried that fire to the Steelers. He truly looked like a man among boys in his limited playing time and may edge out one of the incumbents to make the squad.
Loser – Dwayne Haskins
Dwayne Haskins did not play badly, make no mistake. But after hearing the reports from training camp, I was expecting a lot more. If he really wants to compete for the QB2 spot, he is going to need to show a lot more in-game action. He looked more like himself in Washington than I would have liked.
While it could be chalked up to play-calling, Haskins did not air the ball out much. Most of his attempts went to check-downs, and that is not always a bad thing. However, if your intentions are to wow the coaches and outpace Mason Rudolph, you can count this as a loss.
Winner – Micah Parsons
Parsons was exactly what you would expect from a defensive player of the year candidate. He displayed A+ athleticism and was seemingly everywhere on the field at once. His sideline to sideline speed was on full display, and he deserves every piece of credit given to him. Feel that collar getting tight, Jaylon Smith?
Loser – Kickers
Sam Sloman was not competing for a starting job. His sole purpose was to get Pittsburgh through the Hall of Fame game, where they have had a troubled past with kickers. Instead, the former LA Ram had essentially a live tryout.
Unfortunately, I am not sure if Sloman’s phone will be ringing much before Week 1. I understand it is a preseason game and circumstances are off at times. But, he needed to show he was a reliable option on Thursday night, and he fell short, missing one of his two field-goal attempts, and botching an extra point as well.
To be fair, Dallas’ Hunter Niswander did not fair much better, connecting on his only successful attempt from a 29-yard chip shot in the first. He would go on to miss his next two kicks, which were not particularly close. Fortunately, he was able to show his big leg while punting, averaging over 50 yards per punt.
Winner – Pressley Harvin
I saw someone comment that they had not seen a rookie punter make the most of a debut the way Harvin did. I have to say, I think they may be right. He averaged 45.8 yards on his four punts and landed three of those inside the 20. In fact, all three landed inside the 11-yard line. Truly a great day to be a punter.
Loser – Justin Layne
Before last season ended, it seemed as though Justin Layne was in line to become Pittsburgh’s third corner. However, with big training camps from James Pierre and Antoine Brooks Jr., he may be in trouble. That only became more definitive after their performances on Thursday.
Brooks has excelled in the slot all camp, and Pierre severely outplayed Layne. While he may not lose his roster spot, I guess that he has taken a tumble down the depth chart. In fact, it would not surprise me if they opt-in favor of their two rookies if they feel they have seen all they need from Layne.
Winner – Cowboy’s QB Room
While we were not going to see any Dak-tion on Thursday, the Cowboys’ backups showed some potential. I know they struggled mightily in Dak’s absence last season, but their line was made of practice squad players.
Garrett Gilbert looked very solid, connecting on a few good throws to Dalton Schultz and Cedrick Wilson early. Putting up over 100 yards may not seem like much, but it may very well have locked up Gilbert’s spot at QB2.
If not for an ill-timed fumble by Malik Turner, Cooper Rush may have led a touchdown drive. He played safe, and they let Dowdle go to work on the ground. If he continues to play mistake-free football, this could be an interesting QB3 battle.
Ben DiNucci is the most interesting of the bunch. While he was not as consistent as the other two, he did have some splash plays. However, you are not going to earn a spot throwing 7/17 and an interception. The best thing he did was showcase his legs, which could be his key to edging out Rush.
Bonus Winner – All of Us!
While it was not the most exciting game in history, it was football at last. With the Hall of Fame game in the review mirror, the regular season is only five short weeks away. It may seem like forever, but there is plenty of preseason football to get us through. So go ahead, prep for your fantasy draft, renew your streaming subscriptions, and dust off the jerseys. This season could be the biggest one yet.