PITTSBURGH -- With several offensive starters sitting out the Pittsburgh Steelers' preseason opener, the plan was for Sammie Coates, Jesse James and Eli Rogers to capitalize. Instead, they combined for 29 first-half yards, Coates fumbled twice in the open field and the only one to make a big play in Friday's 30-17 loss to the Detroit Lions was veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey.
That's one way to set a tone.
The Steelers need more from this trio of second-year players, especially with the Le'Veon Bell suspension appeal looming and Ladarius Green still out of the lineup. All three have had solid camps -- especially Coates -- but didn't push the momentum into game action.
Coates, in particular, fumbled or bobbled the ball on three of the four times he touched it. He finished with 18 total yards as the Steelers didn't toss him any deep balls, his specialty.
Coates said he's never fumbled the football -- like, ever. Not even Pop Warner ball.
"Great players find a way to bounce back and fix their mistakes," Coates said. "I was careless with the ball today. There's no excuse."
Perhaps the preseason is a good time for a first fumble, but Coates doesn't like the sound of that. "There's never a good time," he said.
QB depth chart: With Ben Roethlisberger out, Landry Jones ran the first half and was largely unspectacular save a 29-yard touch pass to the corner of the end zone for a Heyward-Bey touchdown. There's no debate: Jones is the Steelers' No. 2 quarterback. He's a reliable option. No. 3 Bruce Gradkowski doesn't seem to have much arm left after shoulder and finger injuries last season.
Maybe that dude could start: The Steelers signed defensive tackle Ricardo Mathews as a rotational guy, but with snaps available on the interior line, Mathews' jump off the ball could help him create a prominent role. Mathews had a near-sack and created havoc up front. But he has got to compete with nose tackle Dan McCullers and rookie Javon Hargrave, who has obvious quickness.
Who got hurt? The Steelers saw a handful of key players sitting out due to minor injuries or issues, including outside linebacker Bud Dupree (groin), outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (sickness) and cornerback Artie Burns (undisclosed). Gradkowski suffered a hamstring injury in the third quarter, and offensive tackle Brian Mihalik hurt his left knee. Both did not return. Linebacker Anthony Chickillo suffered an ankle injury and safety Ross Ventrone also hurt his hamstring.
A surprise player who impressed: Cornerback Doran Grant is a backup who played significant snaps and capitalized, returning an interception 39 yards for a touchdown and making several physical tackles in the open field. Grant isn't starter material but could prove to be a valuable role player, though Grant said his corner blitz resulted in an Andre Roberts touchdown because of sideline miscommunication on his part. Safety Shamarko Thomas also acquitted himself well Friday.
When it was starters vs. starters, the Steelers looked ...: Exactly the same on defense. The offense played four starters (all linemen) for a few series, so not much to see there, but the entire defense played the opening drive, and the unit basically did what it did last season -- stop the run, get good pressure up front, give up a few big passing chunks and get the ball back with a splash play (James Harrison sack, naturally).
One reason to be concerned: Alejandro Villanueva has the inside track on the starting job at left tackle but struggled in the first quarter, committing a holding penalty on the first drive and giving up a sack by defensive end Devin Taylor in the second. This offensive line is ready-made and is counting on Villanueva to make a jump along with it.
Staying active: Antonio Brown was a healthy scratch, but that didn't stop him from getting in some quality work. During media timeouts, Brown would run wind sprints on the field with cornerback William Gay.