The Pittsburgh Steelers well underway with the offseason workouts at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, also referred to as the South Side Facility. We are already into the heart of the offseason, where hope springs eternal following a few months of pretty significant changes, in terms of both departures and arrivals.
How are the rookies performing? What about the players that the team signed in free agency? Who is missing time with injuries, and when are they going to be back? What are the coaches saying about what they are going to do this season that might be different from how it was a year ago?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: Will Ben Roethlisberger see more time than usual in the preseason due to the number of changes at the skill positions?
I’m not quite sure the last time the Steelers’ offense at the skill positions last changed this dynamically from one season to the next. To lose the best wide receiver in football, even if you have another rather good one, is a big deal, especially when there is limited experience and exposure involved with the rest of the group.
With Antonio Brown gone, everything changes. JuJu Smith-Schuster moves into a leading role, and the team has to figure out the roles for the rest of the group behind him, among which basically nobody had a significant or impactful presence last season.
The leading candidates for major roles are Donte Moncrief, a free agent signing, and James Washington, a second-year former second-round pick who saw a lot of snaps with less than marginal production.
Needless to say, if these are to be Roethlisberger’s number two and three receivers, it would be wise to get more work in with them over the course of the next couple of months to establish some sort of rhythm, beyond what can be produced in padless spring practices.
Then there’s rookie Diontae Johnson, who seems to be a figure working in and out of the rotation, which may be his role at the start of the year. The only players he has seemingly had more of an established rapport with are Eli Rogers and Ryan Switzer, who may find themselves on the bottom of the depth chart, or off it entirely.
All this could lead one to wonder if we might see Roethlisberger play a bit more in the preseason—perhaps play a bit longer in the third preseason game—than we have in the past. Quite frankly, I’m guessing not, but I wouldn’t be opposed to it.