They grow up so fast. Just a short time ago, Eli Rogers was the wide-eyed UDFA from Louisville. The man who quietly caught the eye of teammates during spring camp and a flash in the pan in Latrobe until a foot injury robbed him of his first year. He came back last year, eventually took over in the slot, and had a successful season. Now, in his third year in the league, second playing, he’s poised to take his game to another level.
It obviously hasn’t all been perfect. But it’s gotten better. One such moment registered with me rewatching the Week One win over the Browns. It was a fairly non-descript play, a nine yard gain from Rogers off a five yard curl. But immediately, I thought back to last year. And how the smallest of differences can change the entirety of the play.
Flashback to Week One in 2016. Opener against Washington. Rogers runs a curl/option route and Ben Roethlisberger looks for him. But they’re off by a slim margin; in the NFL, that’s all it takes. Rogers doesn’t seem to settle outside and get his head around quickly enough, the ball clanking off his hands, into the air, and picked off on the way back down.
Let’s look at last Sunday. Similar concept. Rogers gets his head around quicker, gets square and shows his number to the quarterback, and – very subtly – takes a slide step to the outside before catching the pass. That’s the difference between hauling one in cleanly and having to reach for one, potentially letting it go off his hands.
Also like how quick to the tuck Rogers was, getting upfield to pick up a few extra yards.
Now, I know there are a couple of differences between the two plays. In the first, Rogers is running a deeper route with tighter coverage. But it all comes back to the same principle. The slot position is so detailed, so nuanced, and doesn’t allow for margin of error. At all. Plays like what you saw against the Browns shows the chemistry and timing Roethlisberger and Rogers have built up. That’ll pay off the rest of the year.