Haskins to start, vie to solidify spot on Steelers

PITTSBURGH — For the first time since imploding against the Carolina Panthers in Week 16 of the 2020 season, Dwayne Haskins will start a football game.

Haskins, competing for a roster spot in Pittsburgh, was given the starting nod for the Steelers‘ final preseason game against the Panthers, coach Mike Tomlin said Wednesday.

“Excited about giving him an opportunity to see some reps against Carolina’s first group,” Tomlin said.

Haskins completed 14 of 28 attempts for 154 yards with two interceptions in the December start against the Panthers and was replaced with Taylor Heinicke for the last two drives of the fourth quarter. He was released a day later.

The 2019 first-rounder signed a one-year deal with the Steelers in January and has played well in the preseason. He was the second quarterback to enter the game after Mason Rudolph in the Hall of Fame game and in the next game versus the Philadelphia Eagles. Against the Eagles, Haskins completed 16 of 22 attempts for 161 yards and a touchdown and led three more scoring drives.

Because the Panthers are planning to play their starters, Friday will be Haskins’ first opportunity to go against a first-string defense in the preseason. Tomlin didn’t disclose how long Haskins will play before being replaced with Josh Dobbs.

“I’m just interested in seeing him play more,” Tomlin said of Haskins. “This process is fair in that everybody gets an opportunity to show their skill set and we work hard to get to know them. He’s new to us, and so the additional reps and exposure is good for him and for us to get to know him.”

Rudolph and Ben Roethlisberger will not play Friday, signaling that Rudolph has all but locked up the backup quarterback spot.

Tomlin added that while many “regulars” will not play against the Panthers, many of the offensive linemen will play as that group works to gain cohesion.

And although Tomlin’s initial plan called for rookie running back Najee Harris to play in each of the Steelers’ four preseason games, the coach acknowledged that the plan has changed and said Harris will not play Friday.

Instead, running back Benny Snell, who has not played in the preseason as he dealt with a lower-body injury, will get the start to “prove his health,” Tomlin said. And rookie Tre Norwood will get an opportunity to play nickel as the team continues to audition Mike Hilton replacements.

“We’ll move some of those guys out of the way to provide more snaps for others,” Tomlin said of playing starters. “… There will be no speculation. Those guys will get an opportunity to pit their skills and preparedness and techniques against varsity.”

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