Football is coming. Training camp is right around the corner, and from there, the rush of the NFL for the next six months will consume us all. Of course, there is still a big difference between the start of training camp and the kickoff of the NFL season. To get us through that time there are training camp competitions worth looking into. This series will highlight the five best training camp battles that will go on this summer at St. Vincent. Today, we focus on JuJu Smith-Schuster vs. Eli Rogers as they battle it out in the slot.
Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Battles: JuJu Smith-Schuster vs. Eli Rogers
This matchup should absolutely be the first one fans have eyes on throughout training camp. Heck, the wide receivers, in general, will be the position of camp this summer. The list of potential receivers to make the team is as long as the cast of casualties on this season of Game of Thrones.
Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Sammie Coates, Demarcus Ayers, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Cobi Hamilton, Justin Hunter and of course the two that we will highlight. Brown and Bryant should be the dynamic duo. However, both should be lining up on the outside for the majority of their plays.
Last season it was Rogers who won a training camp battle and earned duties in the slot for the majority of the year. For an undrafted free agent in his second season coming off of an injury, Rogers fared pretty well in his first season as a starter. Many thought Coates would be the beneficiary of a Martavis Bryant suspension, but Rogers saw 66 targets in 13 games last season, second among wide receivers, and third on the team, behind Brown and Le’Veon Bell. His season was not a breakout year but did not warrant immediate replacement either.
However, to the surprise of some, the Steelers drafted Smith-Schuster in the second round. It is easy to speculate this could be future Martavis Bryant insurance, he did so himself. Still, Smith-Schuster and Bryant are completely different wide receivers. Take their 40-yard dash times at the combine. Bryant, at 6’3½”, ran a 4.42, while Smith-Schuster ran a 4.54 at 6’1”. Not a direct replacement.
You also would expect the Steelers to look for something out of this investment soon, and some of the qualities that made him worthwhile were his nuance and blocking ability. He is one of the youngest players in the NFL, but is a three-year starter and should have no trouble earning the trust of the coaching staff.
Without Ladarius Green as a wide receiver type of tight end, the Steelers could certainly go with four wide receivers more than previous years. Still, who will be third among wide receiver in targets next season?
While Rogers came out hot last season, catching six passes and a touchdown at Washington, he only put 60 yards twice more throughout the year and went over 100 yards once last season. Rogers was also benched for one game due to a rules violation. He was reliable on the field, catching 72 percent of his targets, but his upside is a bit limited and if there is any question about his work ethic, the Steelers would have to look elsewhere.
Smith-Schuster is young, but he can get on the field right away. He has never played in the slot, but with his style of play as a possession receiver who fights for yards, he can easily manage in that area. His preparedness and acumen that has shown in college could very easily show against Rogers throughout camp. Expect Rogers to hold the title early, but don’t be surprised if JuJu Smith-Schuster is playing in the slot by week one of the regular season.