We are now at a point during the offseason in which we find ourselves looking at training camp 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.
Picking up where we left off in the Steelers’ draft class, the next new face in the crowd is the team’s second-round draft pick, JuJu Smith-Schuster, who is entering a suddenly very crowded wide receiver room full of eight players who have already been on NFL rosters.
While they had already by then signed Justin Hunter in free agency and saw Martavis Bryant conditionally reinstated after a year-long suspension, that did not stop Pittsburgh from using a high draft pick when Smith-Schuster became available to them at the end of the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Now, the Steelers didn’t draft him where they did so he could sit, but that doesn’t immediately mean that there is a starting position available to him. Aside from the return of Bryant, who is a starter, and who ran with the starting offense during the spring, there is Antonio Brown to worry about.
And there is also Eli Rogers, who was the starting slot receiver last season, and Sammie Coates, who began the 2016 season as a starter before he broke two of his fingers and saw both his snap count and his efficiency decline drastically.
Still, he will be in a position during training camp in which he will certainly have the opportunity to compete to win that starting slot receiver job for the start of the regular season, or, failing that, to receive playing time in the interim with the hopes of taking over the job at some point during the year.
The Steelers have too many talented wide receivers on the roster to expect that only three of them are going to get playing time, so no matter what happens in terms of fleshing out the pecking order, it is reasonable to assume that Smith-Schuster is going to get some touches.
His ability to win against man coverage off the line, his size, and his physical play will all help him get on the field quickly, but first, he has to show that these qualities will translate into an NFL game by showing up in the preseason and performing.