At this point in the offseason, we find that training camp is just around the corner for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the rest of the league, and a lot has changed for them over the course of the past several months. They have lost a number of players in free agency, through releases, and retirements. But they have also brought in a number of new faces to replace them.
We all know that roster turnover is an ever-present reality for today’s rosters, and it seems that over the course of the past half-decade or so even the Steelers have proven to be as susceptible to the annual shakeup as anybody. With that in mind, we should take the time to get to know some of the new faces with training camp soon to be here.
Another player who is not technically a new face, given that he has already been with the team for over a year in some form or fashion, but second-year wide receiver Eli Rogers stands to make a different if he can make the 53-man roster. The former undrafted free agent landed on injury reserved just a few practices into his first training camp last year.
But he impressed his coaches and teammates last year, and has continued to do so this year. When Markus Wheaton’s reps are managed to keep his previous quad injury at bay, it is Rogers who gets the opportunity to run with the first-team offense, though that is partly because he is best suited for the slot role.
The Steelers have a clear opening at wide receiver with Martavis Bryant serving an indefinite suspension that will keep him out of the entirety of the 2016 season, and Rogers has as good a chance as anybody. His main competition figures to be rookie seventh-round draft pick Demarcus Ayers, who seemed to tweak an ankle in practice yesterday and had better hurry back.
For both Rogers and Ayers, however, they must be eying a role on special teams, as that is what the Steelers seem to be seeking from the fifth wide receiver on the roster, largely with the hopes of having the opportunity to take Antonio Brown off of punt returns. If Rogers could lock up the return job, then his path to the roster is clear.
It seems that nearly all observers at training camp have had to opportunity to come away having seen Rogers make a few plays at the 5’10”, 187-pound wide receiver looking simply to see the field for even an exhibition game for the first time. His injury last season came before the Steelers were able to reach their first preseason game.
As is always the case, the final handful of roster spots will be decided in those preseason games, and when it comes to the fifth wide receiver position, it may well come down as much to special teams as it does offense. Though there exists the possibility that the Steelers choose to carry six wide receivers, if one serves as a returner.