- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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No one should jump to conclusions off one performance, especially the preseason opener. But, among the AFC North teams, the Steelers had the sloppiest start to the preseason. There were special-teams gaffes, head-shaking penalties from outside linebacker Jason Worilds and a rough debut for rookie quarterback Landry Jones. It's not going to be a fun couple of days reviewing the film for coach Mike Tomlin.
Tomlin decided to sit Le'Veon Bell (ankle) just a few days after he had announced the rookie running back would receive snaps with the first team. While some might consider this a setback, there is a silver lining in this for Bell. Resting him indicates the Steelers don't want to risk injuring him further, which is a sign he figures big in the team's plans early in the season. Last year's running backs, Isaac Redman (who got the start) and Jonathan Dwyer, combined for eight carries for 22 yards, which shows why the Steelers need a healthy Bell.
Running back LaRod Stephens-Howling was the offensive star for Pittsburgh. A free-agent pickup from Arizona, Stephens-Howling finished with 40 yards on seven first-half carries by showing his elusiveness. Remember, he's on the team because the Steelers parted ways with Chris Rainey after his off-the-field incident in January.
Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders looks like he is ready to become a starter this year as well as a consistent target for Ben Roethlisberger. He caught three passes for 27 yards and, most importantly, got open on those underneath routes that are critical to Todd Haley's offense.
If Worilds wants to win the outside linebacker job, he's going to have to play better than this. After recording a sack to end a drive on third-and-1, he was flagged for roughing the passer twice in a span of three plays. That led to his getting benched in favor of Chris Carter.
This was a nightmare first game for special-teams coach Danny Smith. Drew Butler had a punt blocked (which came after Marshall McFadden was flagged as an ineligible man downfield), returner David Gilreath made the poor decision to field a punt at his own 3-yard line and Justin Brown was penalized for an illegal block in the back.
When is cornerback Cortez Allen going to be fully recovered from knee surgery? That's the question the Steelers were asking when Allen's replacement, William Gay, was beaten for a 57-yard touchdown pass to Victor Cruz. Injuries at cornerback haven't left the Steelers with many options at that spot. The good news for Pittsburgh is that Allen should be ready to suit up before the regular-season opener.
Jones had an embarrassing first NFL snap when he ran into running back Baron Batch while attempting to hand the ball off to him. Jones had to jump on the ball in the end zone, which resulted in a safety. To be fair, few rookie quarterbacks have stellar performances in their first preseason game. Jones finished 5-of-9 for 48 yards. Here's how the other quarterbacks fared: Ben Roethlisberger was 4-of-8 for 36 yards, Bruce Gradkowski was 6-of-11 for 35 yards and John Parker Wilson was 4-of-5 for 35 yards.