The 2016 season is unfortunately over, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are now embarking upon their latest offseason journey, heading back to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the postseason is now behind us, there is plenty left to discuss.
And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the offseason as they develop, and beyond, looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they try to navigate their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.
Question: Will JuJu Smith-Schuster become the starting slot wide receiver by the end of the season?
When it comes to the wide receiver position this year, the Steelers are hoping to put together a much more compelling group than they did a year ago, outside of Antonio Brown, who maintained his All-Pro status and performance level with 106 receptions for 1284 yards and 12 touchdowns in 15 games.
With Martavis Bryant returning, Sammie Coates potentially back to his early 2016 health in mind and body, and other tinkerings and additions, the Steelers’ group of wide receivers on paper looks to be absolutely stacked. Which is going to make it hard for players to find or retain jobs.
Now, Brown is not about to go anywhere, but much else is largely up for grabs, at least over the course of the season, even if there might be favorites. Bryant, for instance, will more likely than not spend this season functioning as the number two receiver provided that everything continues to go as planned.
And slot incumbent Eli Rogers will figure to be the favorite to open the regular season retaining that role, but it’s not impossible that another—say, rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster—does so. And once the games start, whoever is producing is going to play.
Rogers had a very solid first full season in the league a year ago, finishing second to Brown in most statistical receiving categories, but there were some things that the Steelers likely felt could be improved upon.
That is no doubt just one of multiple reasons that the Steelers have been giving the rookie, Smith-Schuster, plenty of snaps in the slot, according to multiple reports at different times during the offseason.
Rogers certainly and rightfully has his supporters—and for that crowd I will have some more positive news regarding the second-year player later in the day—but I think it would be fair to say that he is in a position in which he will have to earn his role every day and not lose a step, or risk falling behind on the ‘moving train’.