Second-year Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Eli Rogers has a small but supportive contingent of fans in his corner all the way. And that’s perfectly natural, of course. He had a strong first season in 2016 and there is reason for optimism about his continued growth.
But it would be hard to deny that there is pressure on him this year to retain his position in the starting lineup as the Steelers’ top slot receiver. Pittsburgh has a number of players that they can use in that role, and it is a discussion that has to include rookie second-round draft pick JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Unfortunately, it’s going to be a question that he is probably going to have to answer for a long time, pretty much unless or until he loses his role as the top player in the slot.
And he was asked about that just last week late in the OTA process. One reporter asked Rogers if he believed that the slot position is his. “Yeah”, he said after a pause. “I proved myself last year and I’m going to continue to prove myself this year”.
He did prove himself, recording 48 receptions for 594 yards and three touchdowns, doing so in only 13 games—or 12 and a half games, as he missed the second half of the Eagles game with an injury that caused him to miss the next two.
“I’m not out here to compete with anyone”, he went on. “I’m competing with myself. I’m just trying to get better every day within myself. So we’ll see how that plays out, what the coaches think” about the eventual competition for playing time, both in the slot and elsewhere among wide receivers.
He talked about his experience during the 2016 season earlier in the interview, saying that he “played off of skill”, rather than experience. “Going back to my rookie year I didn’t play at all. I was injured the whole year, then I came back and played and got some experience”, he said. “I have that experience now and that experience is everything. This year I’m really excited to get back out there and put my experience on display”.
Of his first full season in the league, Rogers did tell reporters, “it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be”, a sort of ambiguous remark, following it up saying “I never thought it would be easy”. Perhaps he was expecting the conversion from the college level to the pros to be a bit more streamlined than he faced. Perhaps it even continued to his disciplinary incident in the middle of the season, but that’s pure speculation on my part.
“Now I have that experience so it slowed the game down a lot for me”, he said. He said previously that he feels as though he is faster than last season after having another year separating the foot injury that shelved him for the entirety of his rookie season. I firmly believe that the slot position will be improved this season, regardless of who is playing there.