The Pittsburgh Steelers will close out their 2016 preseason Thursday night in Charlotte against the Carolina Panthers and while I have chosen wide receiver Eli Rogers as my offensive spotlight player for this week, it has more to do with wanting to see what he does as a punt returner in this game more so than his play as a route runner, blocker and pass catcher.
Rogers, the second-year former undrafted free agent out of Louisville, has done more than enough as a wide receiver during the Steelers first three preseason games to lock up a spot on this year’s final 53-man roster. What we need to find out Thursday night is if he has a legitimate shot at starting the regular season as the team’s primary punt returner and thus alleviating the use of star wide receiver Antonio Brown in that phase of the game.
In the Steelers first three preseason games, Rogers returned three punts for 39 yards with a long of 17. Additionally, he had two fair catches. Thursday night against the Panthers, one would hope that Rogers gets a few more opportunities to return punts before ultimately giving way to rookie wide receiver Demarcus Ayers, who is attempting to make the team’s practice squad this year.
Thanks to Tropical Storm Hermine, there could be some heavy rain Thursday night at Bank of America Stadium so that might present an interesting challenge for Rogers should he indeed wind up be given a few opportunities to return punts. A smooth performance in that area of his game in possible inclement weather will certainly go a long way in head coach Mike Tomlin trusting him to be the team’s punt returner this year.
While he probably won’t see many snaps on offense Thursday night, it will of course be great to see Rogers targeted a few more times by quarterback Landry Jones in the passing game against the Panthers. Rogers enters the Steelers preseason finale with 7 catches for 64 yards and has one carry for another 5 yards.