While you want your star players and your starters to make plays during training camp, it’s also nice when the unheralded guys get their day, and step up and make plays—especially if they start stacking days like that, which make you begin to wonder if they have a chance.
Rookie college free agent wide receiver Rico Bussey is coming off of a big day of practice yesterday, in which he made several plays down the field, including an explosive play touchdown to end the final two-minute drill. His thoughts on his impactful practice? “I could’ve made some more. I left some on the table. It is what it is”, he told reporters afterward, though he conceded that it was a good day.
Coming out of Hawaii following the 2020 season, after transferring from North Texas, Bussey was never a high-profile player at a high-profile school, but he did show the ability to put up numbers. In 2018, he went over 1,000 receiving yards for North Texas with 12 touchdowns.
But that’s in the past now. He did enough to get a shot in the NFL, and now he’s just trying to fit in. “I just try to follow the old guys and see what they do and try to pick up on anything they do and learn from them”, he said. That includes fifth-year veteran JuJu Smith-Schuster, even though he’s only about 15 months older than the rookie. “I mean, he knows he’s old”, he said when asked if he told Smith-Schuster that he’s one of the older guys.
It appears as though at least the top four wide receivers on the Steelers’ depth chart are already set, with Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and James Washington. Ray-Ray McCloud as a return man and slot option has strong odds of returning as the number five.
After that, it’s a big mystery as to how the position will unfold. Pittsburgh is far from guaranteed to even carry a sixth wide receiver, something that they did not do in 2020. Whether it’s Bussey or Anthony Johnson, Mathew Sexton or Cody White, somebody will have to step up pretty significantly to make a convincing argument for a sixth player at the position.
That can be best done during the preseason, which is fast approaching at this point, with the Steelers slated to play the Dallas Cowboys in the Hall of Fame game next week. If he can make some plays there, and also contribute on special teams, then the conversation can move to the next stage.
Despite the truncated offseason and no preseason at all, some rookie undrafted and late-round picks managed to defy the odds and make the team, like cornerback James Pierre and defensive tackle Carlos Davis. The path is there, certainly. But for now, we’re really just talking about one practice. Next on the agenda is stacking good days.