It’s been a long journey (from Milan to Minsk) for Eli Rogers this year, from tearing his ACL in early January to preparing to play his first game of the 2018 season in the middle of December. The fourth-year wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers could even serve in a pretty big role against the New England Patriots.
That is because the number three wide receiver position has been in a position of instability all season, the Steelers having already attempted to use rookie James Washington, veteran Justin Hunter, and newcomer Ryan Switzer in that role.
Washington has been too raw and inconsistent, Hunter never did much and is now on injured reserve, and Switzer has had success but is a bit limited in what he can do. And there’s a fair chance that he is not even going to play today, dealing with an injury of his own.
That could be two receivers down over the course of a couple weeks, leaving the team with not much to work with behind Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. While that is arguably the top pairing in the league, it can be difficult against a schematically-sound team if you don’t have that third option getting open and making a few plays as well.
Rogers has been that guy for the Steelers in the past, primarily during the 2016 season during which he caught 48 passes for 594 yards and three touchdowns. His role was greatly reduced thanks to Smith-Schuster a year ago, but he got more opportunities late in the year. He caught an 18-yard touchdown pass against the Patriots late in the season.
He ended up catching a season-high five passes in the team’s playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars for 42 yards, including a big third-down conversion that resulted in a 23-yard touchdown on the following play.
If Switzer is out, then the number three snaps figure to be divided between Washington and Rogers. Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner acknowledged that Rogers had been working with Ben Roethlisberger and the first-team offense in practice during the week.
With his reduced role following the emergence of Smith-Schuster, Rogers struggled to stay on the same page as Roethlisberger through much of the year in 2017. He has missed a lot of time now coming back from his knee injury.
How will he look in terms of chemistry, assuming that he does indeed play (and the likelihood of them activating him now and then not playing him is pretty small)? Going up against the Patriots will certainly be a good test to see where he is, both physically and mentally.