I really wasn’t sure if it was ever going to happen, but the Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday finally decided to allow fourth-year wide receiver Eli Rogers to practice, which officially starts his 21-day practice clock. At the end of that time, the team has to decide to either activate him from the Physically Unable to Perform List to the 53-man roster, place him on injured reserve, or release him.
But I feel confident in saying that the team would not have bothered to start him practicing if they did not intend to activate him in time. And I’m also not sure it’s a coincidence that they made this decision at the same time that they seemingly decided that rookie James Washington is not ready to contribute in the way they had hoped.
Nor has Justin Hunter been the asset that they have assumed he would be whenever he did get the chance to play over the course of the past two seasons. Even considering the scarcity of opportunity he has had, he really never did much, and he makes mistakes in scheme and technique that a veteran should not.
Which is why I predict that Hunter likely will be released in order to make room for Rogers on the 53-man roster, in spite of the fact that they would not serve the same role in the offense. But that’s not important, because there is no shortage of outside receivers.
With Ryan Switzer taking on a bigger role in the offense, JuJu Smith-Schuster has been and will continue to see more of his snaps outside, where he has been successful the past two weeks, racking up over 200 yards when playing there.
Obviously Washington would still be a candidate to play outside, assuming he would even dress, but Darrius Heyward-Bey is a player they are not afraid to play as well. So it would be possible to have both Rogers and Switzer, who are almost exclusively slot receivers, on the roster at the same time.
Obviously, ideally Switzer and Rogers wouldn’t see a lot of time on the field together, at least outside of four-receiver sets, but that really shouldn’t be a problem given that Brown and Smith-Schuster so rarely come off the field.
Those two slot presences, however, have over time proven to be reliable targets, and that’s more than Washington can claim for himself right now. Ditto for Hunter and Heyward-Bey, high draft picks that never came close to producing to their pedigree and never will.
Of course it’s also possible that they release a player from another position to make room for Rogers, which is what they did for Cameron Sutton last year, ending up carrying seven cornerbacks. Likely candidates on that front would include Brian Allen and Marcus Allen in the secondary. If the offensive line is healthy, Zach Banner would also be a possibility.