Almost one full year ago the Pittsburgh Steelers waived wide receiver Eli Rogers with a foot injury, and while the former undrafted free agent out of Louisville had to spend his rookie season on the team’s injured reserve list, his prospects of making the final 53-man roster this year certainly look decent as the team prepares for their sixth training camp practice on Thursday.
Since having his rookie season end before it really even got started, Rogers has undergone surgery on his right foot which had reportedly been giving him problems dating back to his high school playing days. On Wednesday, Steelers wide receivers coach Richard Mann spoke to the media at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe and as expected, he was asked if Rogers was one of the several young wide receivers he’s expecting to step up with Martavis Bryant out for the entire 2016 season due to a suspension.
“Eli was with us last year, but he never played,” said Mann, who is entering his fourth year with the Steelers, during an interview that was aired Wednesday on Steelers Nation Radio. “He got hurt, he never played so we’re looking at what he has when we start playing tackle. Very good route runner, got a lot of savvy inside because that’s basically where we play him and we just got to see what happens.”
During his four years at Louisville, Rogers was as consistent of a wide receiver as you’ll see. While he never posted eye-popping stats, his 176 total receptions for 2,020 yards and 12 touchdowns consisted of him catching between 41 and 46 passes in each of his four seasons. He also played in 13 games in each of those four seasons so sitting out injured during his rookie year must have really been foreign to him.
Rogers mostly played in the slot at Louisville and that’s exactly where he’s been lining up so far during the Steelers first five training camp practices this year. It doesn’t sound like Mann has any intentions of changing that right now.
“Well, he’s played in there, so with that said, what you see is what you get,” said Mann. “He’s got some savvy. You just can’t jump in there and play, it takes a while to learn to play in there, because it’s a little different in there and he has played in there. He’s picked up on a lot of things that we’re coaching here. A lot of routes that we’re coaching up here, he’s got a good feel for them.”
Entering training camp, the perceived and anticipated battle for the fifth wide receiver spot on this year’s 53-man roster figured to between Rogers and rookie seventh-round draft pick Demarcus Ayers. However, it’s evident through the team’s first five practices that it’s probably Rogers’ spot to lose as he has been running with the second-team offense and occasionally the first-team when starter Markus Wheaton is being limited because of a minor lower leg injury of some sorts. On Wednesday, Ayers suffered an ankle injury and if it results in him missing any practice time, Rogers will undoubtedly increase his lead in that battle as long as he can stay on the field.
Rogers, like Ayers, can also return punts and so he should get a chance to show that skill set of his during the preseason. While he didn’t return a lot of punts at Louisville, Rogers did average 8.55 yards on 29 total opportunities. At some point, special teams coordinator Danny Smith will likely be asked about Rogers development as a punt returner as Mann isn’t willing to comment on that phase of the game when it comes to any of his wide receivers.
“I don’t coach special teams, I’m coaching wideouts,” said Mann.
Rogers will certainly be a player to pay close attention to when the Steelers open their 2016 preseason against the Detroit Lions and while Mann seems to be pleased with where the young wide receiver currently is in his development, he knows the second-year player still has to show that he can play in stadiums.
“Like I said, we just keep practicing and he’ll keep getting better, hopefully, and we’ll take it over into the preseason and we’ll make our judgments from there,” Mann said of Rogers. “I like what I’ve seen so far, but we’ve got see what happens when we start playing tackle.”