Steelers' Rogers gaining rave reviews for work as slot receiver
Eli Rogers has exactly zero catches in the NFL.
There's a pretty good reason for that, too. He's played in exactly zero NFL games in his career.
No catches, no games and coming off a broken foot that cost him his entire rookie season sure hasn't curtailed the high praise being piled on the Steelers' slot wide receiver through the first two weeks of training camp.
Safety Mike Mitchell: “Monster.”
Wide receivers coach Richard Mann: “Savvy.”
Head coach Mike Tomlin: “Perfect might be a stretch,” he said when asked about Rogers being a “perfect” example of using a year off to prepare himself for the following year.
Well, would you expect anything less out of Tomlin, especially about an undrafted free agent who has zero catches and zero games in his career?
Still, that doesn't mask that Rogers spent the past two weeks putting himself into the conversation of being one of the pieces that can ease the loss of suspended wide receiver Martavis Bryant.
“He has just figured it out,” Mitchell said. “I was calling it before the foot injury last year that he was going to have a breakout year for a rookie. He was doing it last year before the foot injury. Ask anybody, and they will tell you how disappointed they were when he got hurt because we knew he was a guy who could've helped us significantly.”
Rogers (5-foot-10, 187 pounds) never got that chance.
Rogers broke his foot while running a route during a training camp practice that quickly turned the camp darling into an afterthought. It was the same foot that had bothered Rogers dating all the way to high school in Miami.
Rogers was worried if he would have a shot to stick around for the entire year. Two days before he got hurt, Rogers' roommate, Ross Schuerman, tore his Achilles and was released. The Steelers decided to bring Rogers back after he cleared waivers to put him on injured reserve.
“I was kind of unsure if they were going to keep me,” Rogers said. “Then they told me that I am good and I was here for the year, so that was a blessing.”
Rogers spent the season getting healthy and learning the playbook so when training camp arrived he would be right back where he left off.
“It was a lot of studying other teams, other players and learning our playbook,” Rogers said.
Rogers was intriguing to the Steelers as a true slot receiver.
Slot receivers in the NFL typically don't play that position in college so there is usually a learning curve involved. Not with Rogers, who had 176 catches in four years at Louisville with the majority of them coming in the slot.
“Well, he's played in there, so with that said, what you see is what you get,” Mann said during a recent interview on Steelers Nation Radio. “You just can't jump in there and play, it takes a while to learn to play in there, because it's a little different. ... He's picked up on a lot of things that we're coaching here. A lot of routes that we're coaching up here, he's got a good feel for them.”
Rogers has been running with the first team as the slot receiver and has made his share of big plays. He ended the two-minute drill last week with a touchdown catch over Lawrence Timmons. On Tuesday against the Lions at training camp, Rogers turned around cornerback Quandre Diggs before grabbing a pass during 1-on-1 drills.
“I am a confident player, but I am always trying to come out better every day,” Rogers said. “It is not about what you did yesterday, but what you are doing today. I focus on coming out and getting better every day. I feel like if I can do that, I can be in the right position. I feel like I have a chance to contribute this year.”
It doesn't hurt Rogers that he could be one of the Steelers' best punt returners.
The Steelers have been vocal about relieving Antonio Brown of some of his punt returning responsibilities. Usually the player occupying the fifth receiver spot has to contribute on special teams, as well.
“I think they coincide to a degree,” Rogers said. “It is all running with the ball in your hands. Slot work you have to see the defenses and get open. Punt return you are already open so it is what you can do with the ball.”
Mitchell knows what Rogers can do with the ball.
“People better be on the lookout for him,” Mitchell said.