With the Pittsburgh Steelers’ training camp for the 2015 season now in swing, it’s time to get down to the business of football. The time for “football in shorts” or “football-like” events is over as teams all around the league embark on their own personal journey for the upcoming season.
Although for just about every team the time leading up to the regular season and reflect a period of optimism, it’s also a period of great uncertainty, which means that there are a lot of questions that need to be answered before we know who or what a team truly is. It’s a process that can last well into the regular season.
One of the questions that is quickly emerging as one that could be asked seriously is whether or not rookie undrafted free agent wide receiver Eli Rogers has a legitimate shot of making the 53-man roster.
Rogers, all of 5’10, 180 pounds out of Louisville, might not be particularly impressive physically, but he has been impressing many this summer, with the tangible evidence to back it up. Those on our staff who have had the opportunity to attend training camp this year have written glowingly about his early performance thus far.
Cornerback Kevin Fogg told Alex Kozora that Rogers was one of the two young wide receivers in particular that had impressed him so far. And the tell-tale sign is that, for the past two days, Rogers has been working with the first-team group of wide receivers, which includes Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Martavis Bryant, and Darrius Heyward-Bey.
That means not only that the coaching staff likes him, but that Ben Roethlisberger likes him, and if your franchise quarterback takes a liking to a wide receiver, he greatly increases his odds of sticking around, at least in some capacity.
But if Rogers does manage to stick around, it will no doubt have quite a lot to do with what he is able to accomplish on special teams. Showing up big on kick and punt returns during the preseason will be his ticket to the 53-man roster, as getting there will most likely force the Steelers to carry a rare sixth wide receiver.
Of course, Pittsburgh did just that as recently as last season, although by the end of the year that carried only five, and one was a healthy scratch during the playoffs, perhaps as a recognition that they had an overabundance at the position.
One of the obstacles in his path will have to be Dri Archer, the running back slash wide receiver that the Steelers are sincerely hoping can take over the return duties full-time, in part to get Brown off of punt returns. If Archer ends up excelling in the return game, as he did in college, that will diminish Rogers’ value.
As impressive a start the undrafted rookie may have had in training camp, it would seem that he has pretty long odds to make the 53-man roster out of camp, seemingly no matter how well he performs, simply because the team is too deep at the position, with too many needs elsewhere. But this is a journey that’s just beginning. Perhaps we revisit this question in a few weeks with a different conclusion.