Coach Mike Tomlin said one of the most significant aspects of the preseason finale against Carolina Thursday night will be determining which players win spots on the 53-man roster based on special teams play.
One of those he singled out is veteran wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who caught his first three passes of the preseason last week against the Philadelphia Eagles, including a 33-yard touchdown.
“I’m just as pleased what he’s done on special teams as he has at wide receiver — some things, quite frankly, I didn’t know he had,” Tomlin said. “It’s attractive.”
Heyward-Bey, signed in offseason free agency, is trying to land one of the five or six receiving spots. The former seventh overall pick in the 2009 draft never played on special teams until the last two games of the 2013 season when he was with the Indianapolis Colts.
With the Steelers, Heyward-Bey has served as one of the gunners in punt coverage and one of the corners in punt returns in the preseason.
“Half of it is effort, the other half is picking up what the coaches want you to do and going out to do it,” Heyward-Bey said.
He posted the fastest 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine in 2009 (4.3). Even though he said he hasn’t been timed in years, he also said he can outrun rookie running back Dri Archer, who posted the second fastest laser-timed 40 in NFL history (4.26) in February.
“I’m the fastest,” Heyward-Bey said, with a smile. “I’m taller than he is.”
Nonetheless, Heyward-Bey (6 feet 2, 219 pounds) said he is glad to do whatever is necessary to make the final roster, including play special teams.
“I’m trying to win,” he said. “I want to go to the playoffs. I want to win a Super Bowl. Whatever I got to do to do that, I’m down for. I embrace anything I do. I go in 110 percent. For me, it’s a job, it’s what I get paid to do. I’m happy to do it.”
Starters to sit
Despite his team’s poor performance last week in Philadelphia, Tomlin said he will not change his approach and demand more from his starters in the preseason finale Thursday night at Heinz Field against the Carolina Panthers.
Tomlin said he will rest a number of players, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, safety Troy Polamalu and defensive end Cam Heyward, and hold out others who have been bothered by injuries, such as outside linebacker Jason Worilds, receiver Lance Moore and inside linebacker Sean Spence.
“We want to have a good performance, win the game, regardless who is on the field for us,” Tomlin said. “It’s important to finish on the upswing.”
The Steelers cut 15 players Tuesday to get down to the 75-man roster limit.
The players cut were running backs Jordan Hall, Tauren Poole and Miguel Maysonnet, receivers C.J. Goodwin and Kashif Moore, cornerbacks Lewis Toler and Devin Smith, defensive linemen Hebron Fangupo and Brian Arnfelt, offensive linemen Chris Elkins and Emmanuel McCray, safety Jordan Dangerfield, linebacker Vic So’oto and tight end Eric Waters and long snapper Luke Ingram. Only Arnfelt and Fangupo spent time on the 53-man roster last season.
The Steelers must cut 22 more players to reach the 53-man roster limit for the regular season by 4 p.m. Saturday.
Some of the players cut Tuesday and Saturday can be re-signed to the practice squad. Each team can have 10 practice-squad players this year, up from eight last year.
Jones on the bubble
Tomlin said third-team quarterback Landry Jones will get the majority of snaps against the Panthers, though he said he is undecided about whether he will start.
Tomlin pointed out that Jones, a fourth-round choice in 2013, started the preseason finale last year in Carolina.
“I’m not opposed to [him starting],” Tomlin said. “I need to see just consistent, above-the-line play from him.”
Defensive end Brett Keisel, signed last week and returning for his 13th season with the Steelers, will play. Keisel was in uniform in Philadelphia but did not play. “I’m interested in taking him to the deep end of the pool to see if he can swim,” Tomlin said.
Tomlin also said veteran safety Will Allen, who has been dealing with a hamstring injury, will play.
Because the teams will meet again in Week 3 of the regular season, Tomlin said he will not show many of his offensive and defensive looks against the Panthers. “I’m sure they’ll do the same,” he said. … Long snapper Greg Warren, who injured his knee in a practice against the Buffalo Bills Aug. 13, has a chance to return for the Sept. 7 opener against the Cleveland Browns, Tomlin said. … Tomlin will not bring in another punter for the final preseason game against Carolina. Brad Wing again will handle the punting duties by himself. … Tomlin did not rule out signing players that other teams release. He noted the Steelers signed Cody Wallace after he was cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year. Wallace became the team’s starting center after Maurkice Pouncey and Fernando Velasco were injured. … New Penguins coach Mike Johnston and his staff visited Tuesday.
Gerry Dulac: email@example.com and Twitter @gerrydulac. Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1.