Steelers training camp preview: Finding slot receiver a priority
The Tribune-Review will examine each position on the Steelers roster as they prepare to report for training camp July 25 at Saint Vincent. Today’s installment looks at the 11 wide receivers:
Antonio Brown: Coming off the most productive five-year span by a wide receiver in NFL history, Brown enters his ninth season with the Steelers. For the second time in three years, he won’t have Martavis Bryant on the other side of the field to help alleviate double coverage. When that was the case in 2016, Brown finished with 1,284 yards — a nice season, but a drop-off of 550 yards from the previous year.
JuJu Smith-Schuster: With Bryant gone, Smith-Schuster moves into the full-time role as No. 2 receiver. He could spend time in the slot if the Steelers elect to use rookie James Washington on the outside.
Justin Hunter: In his first season, Hunter was inactive for eight games, including the divisional playoff game. He was a 2017 training camp standout, and the Steelers brought him back on another one-year deal.
Darrius Heyward-Bey: Entering his 10th NFL season and fifth with the Steelers, Heyward-Bey is little more than a special teams contributor at this stage of his career. He was limited to two catches for 47 yards last season.
James Washington: After trading Bryant, the Steelers used their second-round pick to select Washington out of Oklahoma State after he set a school record with 4,472 career receiving yards — second-most in Big 12 history.
On camp roster
Quadree Henderson: The difficult path to a roster spot for the former Pitt player is via special teams. He returned four kickoffs and three punts for touchdowns during his three seasons with the Panthers. He left college with a year of eligibility remaining and went undrafted.
Tevin Jones: The former Memphis player in entering his third NFL training camp after spending 2016 with the Houston Texans and ’17 with the Kansas City Chiefs. In college, he started 27 games and appeared in 51 for Memphis.
Trey Griffey: After trial runs with the Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins last summer, the son of Ken Griffey Jr. is trying to stick with the Steelers. He had 23 catches for 382 yards and two touchdowns as a senior at Arizona.
Marcus Tucker: If the Steelers opt to keep a pure slot receiver, Tucker could earn a spot on the 53-man roster for the first time. He spent last season on the practice squad and was impressive in offseason workouts.
Justin Thomas: A former standout quarterback at Georgia Tech, Thomas spent last year on the Steelers practice squad working out at his new position. He was brought back on a futures contract but faces heavy competition to earn a roster spot.
Damoun Patterson: One of two players signed to a contract after rookie minicamp, Patterson averaged 17.3 yards per catch as a senior at Youngstown State. He also was a special teams contributor for the Penguins.
Who will be used in the slot?
Eli Rogers was mostly an afterthought last season with the emergence of Smith-Schuster, and he remains unemployed while recovering from a torn ACL suffered late in the divisional playoff loss to Jacksonville. Smith-Schuster and/or Washington could take snaps there, and Tucker is a viable option at the position. Either way, someone will need to step up at the No. 2 and slot spots to alleviate double- and triple-teams Brown is expected to receive.