Donning a literal hard hat, workmanlike Eli Rogers re-claiming his role in Steelers offense
It was not uncommon for Eli Rogers to be spotted in a construction hard hat around UPMC Rooney Sports Complex last fall, and he showed up to training camp last month in the cab of a big rig.
Rogers clearly wants to advance he is all about business, and he’s ready to work.
Too often during his 4½ years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, though, Rogers hasn’t been able to because of injury.
But during this training camp, Rogers has been healthy, locked-in and established as NFL slot receiver. That has allowed his showing to mesh with his handpicked persona: acquitting himself well while being reliably consistent at practice. While he hasn’t been an eye-popping standout, Rogers hasn’t missed a practice session, and nothing that has happened on the Saint Vincent practice fields suggests he won’t again be part of the Steelers’ roster come the start of the regular season.
Not that Rogers is taking anything for granted.
“You know you’re only as good as your last play,” Rogers said. “I didn’t play last year, really — I came back the last three games — so I definitely am a person that goes out to prove himself every day in practice and in the games. If I just worry about what I’m doing, everything else will fall into place, and I will be playing on Sundays.”
Eli Rogers just showed up like this. pic.twitter.com/x31fHOHESP
— Renatta Signorini (@ByRenatta) July 25, 2019
Rogers was one of the Steelers’ most valuable pass-catchers during Sundays of the season of their most recent AFC championship game appearance. In 2016 during his first NFL action, he was third on the team in receptions (48) and receiving yards (594).
But it has been quite the 2½ years since for Rogers. His role the following season was greatly diminished (18 catches, 149 yards), even getting benched for a pair of games.
Then, just when it appeared he had re-found his stride — and the confidence of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger — with a season-high five receptions in the January 2018 playoff game, Rogers suffered a torn ACL late in that contest against Jacksonville.
That put his career in jeopardy, but Rogers worked out in the Steelers’ view all spring and early summer, compelling them to sign him the day training camp began.
Though he would spend four months on the physically unable to perform list, Rogers returned for the stretch run and had 12 catches over the season’s final three games. That was enough for the Steelers to bring him back — this time on a two-year deal — over the offseason.
— Tribune-ReviewSports (@TribSports) July 15, 2019
Despite a much more crowded wide receivers room than when he broke out in 2016, Rogers consistently has run with the first team the past two weeks at Saint Vincent.
“I feel like I’ve been real crisp in my routes,” Rogers said, “and I’ve just been working really hard.”
Still just 26 years old, Rogers has come a long way since the Steelers signed him as an undrafted free agent from Louisville in 2015, stashing him on injured reserve all season because of a foot injury.
“I just understand the playbook more,” Rogers said, “understand what Ben likes and where to be.”
Rogers’ spot on the 53-man roster is not etched in stone, not at a position where JuJu Smith-Schuster is a star, James Washington is just 16 months removed from having a second-round pick invested in him, Diontae Johnson is a rookie third-round pick, Donte Moncrief was recently given a $9 million contract and Ryan Switzer showed good chemistry with Roethlisberger in Rogers’ stead last season.
Some have suggested it’s an either/or for the Steelers choosing between Rogers and Switzer. Not so, wide receivers coach Darryl Drake said.
“We very, very easily could (keep both),” Drake said. “Very easily.”
Rogers and Switzer are options in the punt and kick return games, too. Also working in their favor is that the Steelers increasingly have been using four- and five-receiver sets during camp. The five-wides package was dusted off after years of relative non-use when Rogers was activated last December.
“We have done some five wides, and you do that when you have the talent to do it,” Drake said. “(Rogers) is part of that, for sure, but you want that competition and like that competition because competition breeds success.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .