Personally, I was surprised to see the Pittsburgh Steelers re-sign wide receiver Justin Hunter during the offseason even though they were able to do so for the veteran minimum once again. Now that Hunter is back in the fold, he probably has a halfway decent shot at making the Steelers 53-man roster for a second consecutive season and especially now that fellow wide receiver Martavis Bryant has been traded away to the Oakland Raiders.
In order for that to happen, Hunter will likely need to finally do something that he’s yet to do in his first five seasons in the NFL and he talked about what that something is during a Thursday afternoon interview on Steelers Nation Radio at the conclusion of the team’s third OTA practice of 2018.
“Just showing production,” Hunter said Thursday when asked what his biggest goal is this offseason. “I’m just building off of what I did last year, showing them that I can be more than just a flashy, deep ball receiver. Coach T [Mike Tomlin] told me he wanted me to be a complete receiver, doing some of the dirty stuff, because he knows I can do all the other stuff. So, just making me a whole receiver.”
Needing to show more production as a wide receiver is certainly something that Hunter has been needing to do since 2015, his final season with the Tennessee Titans. Last season, his first with the Steelers, Hunter, a former second-round draft pick of the Titans in 2013, caught all of 4 passes for 23 yards in the seven games that he dressed for and that included him playing a total of 65 offensive snaps.
Hunter also now has yet another different wide receivers coach to learn from as the Steelers hired Darryl Drake during the offseason after Richard Mann retired and he talked about how the former has a few pet peeves on Thursday.
“Coach Drake, he’s a good coach, definitely a funny guy and he has a lot of pet peeves,” Hunter said. “One thing he doesn’t like is when you walk back to the huddle with the ball in your hand. He wants you to walk back with it cupped and real tucked and if you don’t, he said he’s gonna throw it over the damn [train] tracks.”
Even though Hunter will also have a new offensive coordinator in his second season in Pittsburgh with Randy Fichtner now replacing Todd Haley, he said Thursday that the terminology of the offense isn’t changing.
“It’s the same as it was last year,” Hunter said. “It’s pretty much a review for me and just make sure I’m on top of it.”
In addition to staying on top of the offsense this offseason, Hunter also plans on staying on top of his relationship with starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as well as he knows the veteran signal-caller has a long history of liking tall wide receivers.
“I just try to stay on his good side as much as I can,” the 6-4 Hunter said of his relationship with Roethlisberger. “If he needs me to do something, come and do another route, I’m there. He ain’t even got to ask twice.”
Hunter, who’s NFL career could be over should he fail to make the Steelers 53-man roster this year, admitted Thursday that there has been one thing that’s been very hard for him to overcome since he came into the league.
“I would say moving team to team, just learning different offenses and whatnot,” Hunter said. “But with time, I get it.”
Another thing that Hunter better get this offseason is that he needs to show something as a special teams player. While that’s ultimately unlikely to happen being as he’s yet to show he can be a special teams asset of any kind during his short-ish NFL career, it certainly would help his cause when it comes to him potentially surviving the final round of roster cuts come September. That is something that fellow Steelers wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey was able to do several years ago and it definitely resulted in his NFL career being extended.
“In another year, I want to be on more than one-year deal,” Hunter said Thursday when asked where he sees himself a year from now. “That’s the biggest thing.”