With good reason, much of the focus of the offseason has been on the major additions that the Pittsburgh Steelers have made to the defensive side of the ball. That includes a pair of pricey free agent veterans in cornerback Steven Nelson—the first player they ever agreed to a deal with from outside of their organization during the three-day negotiating period prior to the official start of the new league year—and inside linebacker Mark Barron.
The defense has for some time now needed more help than the offense, and this year, including the drafting of Devin Bush, they may have finally gotten what they need to be as competitive as necessary to get them over whatever hump has been weighing them down.
But the other free agent signing has not been ignored in-house, either. That would be sixth-year veteran wide receiver Donte Moncrief, whom offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner described as having “an unbelievable professional attitude”, per Joe Rutter and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Moncrief, 25, is easily the most experienced wide receiver on the team now, despite the fact that he is still pretty young. Even though he hasn’t put up Pro Bowl numbers in his first five seasons, working mostly with a carousel of mediocrity at quarterback, the Steelers are excited about what the 6’2”, 216-pound target can do with Ben Roethlisberger. So is Roethlisberger. So is Moncrief himself.
That quarterback-wide receiver relationship is ever-so important, and was apparently the only thing holding Antonio Brown and Big Ben together all these years during a historical, unprecedented six-year run of productivity, including six consecutive 100-catch seasons. Moncrief is already seeing results in his own new quarterback-wide receiver relationship with Roethlisberger.
“I feel like you can tell from practice”, he told Rutter. Roethlisberger is “trusting me. He trusts that I’m in the spots that I’m supposed to be in. He believes in me in being in spots. As long as we continue to throw and get plays in, we can continue to get better, and it will make the season fun”.
Moncrief is currently the frontrunner to be the wide receiver who opens the game in two-receiver sets, though the Steelers, by far, predominantly run out of 11 personnel. In fact, with Jesse James gone, two-receiver looks might be even more rare.
So that will provide opportunities for everybody from James Washington and Ryan Switzer to Diontae Johnson and Eli Rogers, provided that they all make the roster, or whoever else might emerge from the back of the pack.
But as the tallest one in the room, Moncrief would be hard to miss no matter where he’s standing, be it the back or the front. Justin Hunter was kept around for two years because the team liked his size. Perhaps Moncrief’s size can actually yield better results. And that starts with his connection with the quarterback. On that front, so far, so good.