Eli Rogers drew the short straw on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens. Taken off punt returns, the Pittsburgh Steelers saw more value in dressing Justin Hunter to play receiver, sending Rogers to the bench and into his street clothes.
In Mike Tomlin’s eyes, this isn’t the end of Rogers’ career in Pittsburgh. At today’s press conference, Tomlin said Rogers would have a chance to get back on the field.
“Like I told him a week ago, it’s not a firing,” Tomlin said. “It’s a re-centering, if you will. He had a good week last week. I’m sure he’s excited to get back out there. Just saw him this morning in the building. He’ll be given an opportunity like everyone else is. The decisions that we made a week ago were for that game and to put us in the very best position to win that game. I’m open to roles changing and evolving as we prepare this week.”
Tomlin said he wanted to give Rogers the week off to clear his head after his costly muffed punt against the Chicago Bears. Chicago recovered and found the end zone a few plays later to get an early lead on the Steelers, a day where they had to play catch-up throughout.
“He put the ball on the ground the other week in the punt return game. That’s one of his chief roles. That’s one of the chief reasons why he’s a participant. I wanted to give him a week off from that and reestablish some good fundamentals in that area.”
Return duties come down to trust and confidence, two elements that are directly tethered with ball security. It’s why, in Pittsburgh at least, and I assume most other cities, it isn’t about having the most dynamic or game-breaking player to return. It’s about having ones that are trusted to make good decisions and offer steady, mistake-free play. Talented special teamers in the past like Shamarko Thomas have been shooed away because of mental mistakes.
If Rogers can’t get his job back, Antonio Brown will continue to serve as the Steelers’ punt returner. And I assume Justin Hunter, who played nine snaps Sunday, will keep his hat as the fifth wide receiver. He was targeted twice against the Ravens, snagging one pass.
Hunter has zero special teams value which is why Rogers was active over him in the first place. But if Rogers isn’t on punts, then he doesn’t have any extra value either and on receiver merits alone, won’t get the hat over Hunter.