While understandably considered longshots by many to make the Pittsburgh Steelers final 53-man roster this year out of training camp, the buzz surrounding wide receiver Eli Rogers and tight end Xavier Grimble continues to build as the team puts their finishing touches Thursday on their second week of OTA practices.
Earlier this week, Steelers wide receiver Markus Wheaton was asked if any of the team’s younger pass-catchers have stood out to him so far this year and he wasted no time naming Rogers, who unfortunately missed all of his rookie season due to a foot problem that was discovered during the early stages of last year’s training camp.
“Just my opinion, I think Eli looks real good,” said Wheaton in an interview that was broadcasted a few days ago on Steelers Nation Radio. “He’s a guy that’s obviously been here, but we didn’t get to see much of him last year because of the injury and all of that stuff. But I think he’s grown just from camp last year to this time this year.”
Rogers, who signed with the Steelers last year as an undrafted free agent out of Louisville, will likely need to beat out this year’s seventh-round draft pick Demarcus Ayers during training camp in order to make the team’s final 53-man roster. Winning that battle, however, could also ultimately depend on whether or not Rogers can impress more than Ayers does the remainder of the offseason as a punt returner as that is the main redeeming quality that seemingly attracted the Steelers to the Houston wide receiver late in this year’s draft.
During his four years at Louisville, Rogers was very consistent as he caught more than 40 passes each and every season on his way to totaling 176 total receptions for 2,020 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also returned 29 total punts for 248 yards during his college career.
After being playfully chided by Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin during last year’s training camp for not being one of the last wide receivers off the field following a team practice, Rogers apparently now makes sure that will never happen again. According to Chris Bradford of the Beaver County Times, Rogers was the last wide receiver to leave the field following the team’s Wednesday OTA practice as he chose to run a few extra sprints.
“I’m just trying to get some extra work in, work on the fundamentals,” Rogers told Bradford.
Rogers later indicated to Bradford that he learned a lot last year even though all of his time around the team consisted of him rehabbing his surgically repaired foot, which apparently had hampered him for several years.
“I think I’m a step ahead. (I know) what the coaches expect and just being around the guys, staying connected last year. I feel like I have a bit of an edge,” Rogers reportedly said.
As for Grimble, who entered the league in 2014 as an undrafted free agent with the New York Giants, the buzz surrounding him has been strong dating back to last season as he spent the entire year on Steelers practice squad. The USC product will likely have to beat out veteran tight end Matt Spaeth for a roster spot this offseason and with that noted, Jacob Klinger of Penn Live reported Thursday morning on Twitter that plenty of Steelers players have said they have been “impressed” by Grimble.
Like Rogers, Grimble’s path to making the final 53-man roster this year will likely include him needing to impress special teams coordinator Danny Smith the remainder of the offseason. Additionally, he recently admitted that his main focus this past offseason was to improve his conditioning, according to Chris B. Mueller of the Beaver County Times.
With new Steelers tight end Ladarius Green sitting out the team’s OTA practices this year as he continues to rehab his surgically repaired ankle, Grimble knows that he must take advantage of whatever extra practice snaps he might ultimately receive between now and the start of training camp.
“If guys are out, it just means more reps for everybody else,” Grimble said last week, according to Mueller . “Of course, you’ve got to step up and know what you’re doing. You don’t want to miss a beat because anybody’s missing out.”
During his college career, Grimble registered 69 total receptions for 731 yards and 11 touchdowns.
In summation, it will be fun to monitor how Rogers and Grimble both perform this year during training camp and the preseason as it sounds like the each could legitimately wind up making the final 53-man roster with strong showings. At worst, both appear to be very strong candidates to make the Steelers 10-man practice squad this season.