Steelers OTA preview: With Brown gone, change comes to WR room
Almost five months after playing their last game, the Pittsburgh Steelers are about to put a full roster of players on the field as they ramp up preparations for the 2019 season.
The third and final phase of the NFL’s offseason conditioning program begins May 21 for the Steelers with the first of 10 organized team activities, or OTAs.
Phase 3, as it is known, spans four weeks, with the final one featuring the team’s three-day mandatory minicamp. Players cannot wear pads except to cover the knees and elbows. Helmets can be worn and teams can participate in 11-on-11 drills, but no hitting is permitted.
Heading into the start of OTAs, the Tribune-Review will take a daily look at a position that will bear watching once the entire 91-man roster convenes at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
Today: Wide receiver
Who’s back: JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Ryan Switzer, Eli Rogers, Tevin Jones, Trey Griffey
Smith-Schuster moves up to the No. 1 spot in just his third season. He is coming off an 111-catch, 1,426-yard season but will command much of the extra coverage this year. Washington will get the first crack at being the No. 2 receiver. Switzer and Rogers are likely competing for one spot as a slot receiver. Switzer played 27 percent of the offense snaps in his first season with the team. Rogers contributed in three games after being activated from the PUP list. Jones and Griffey were on the practice squad last year and face an uphill climb to win roster spots.
Who’s gone: Antonio Brown, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Justin Hunter
Brown and all of the distractions he created since the final week of the season were shipped off to Oakland. How the Steelers compensate for his absence will be an ongoing storyline. Heyward-Bey wasn’t offered a contract after finishing up his fifth year with the Steelers and 10th in the NFL. Hunter also was allowed to walk after two underwhelming seasons with the team.
Who’s new: Donte Moncrief, Diontae Johnson, Johnny Holton, Diontae Spencer
The first transaction after Brown’s departure was signing Moncrief in free agency. He’s a fallback option in case Washington doesn’t earn a starting job. At worst, he’ll be the No. 3 or No. 4 receiver. The Steelers used a third-round pick on Johnson, whose size, style and pedigree are similar to Brown’s. He will be an option in the slot. Spencer joined the Steelers after a stint in the CFL. Holton was signed this week after being waived by the Philadelphia Eagles. He spent three seasons with the Raiders.
What’s at stake?: The position has undergone so many changes that Rogers is the only holdover from the AFC championship game loss in January 2017 against New England. At 26, he’s also the oldest returning player, which shows how young this group is. OTAs will be a chance for the pieces to this puzzle to start falling into place – a chance for Washington to show he’s worthy of a starting job, for Johnson to push for playing time, for Moncrief to become a dependable option with a veteran quarterback throwing him passes.
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .