<
>

Meet Eli 'illusionist' Rogers, Ben Roethlisberger's new weapon in the slot

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he jokes with Eli Rogers (17) about how annoying he is because of "how much he's in my ear asking questions." Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH -- Every year, the NFL is littered with preseason success stories that don't translate to the regular season.

At least two instances indicate Eli Rogers will be different.

In the Pittsburgh Steelers' joint practice against the Detroit Lions, Ben Roethlisberger threw to Rogers on his first two attempts of the day in 11-man work.

In Friday's win at New Orleans, Roethlisberger threw to Rogers on four of his first 14 attempts, resulting in two catches for 17 yards.

The Steelers have been hungry for a true slot receiver to pair with Antonio Brown, and they might just have it in Rogers, Teddy Bridgewater's close friend from Miami Northwestern High who went undrafted out of Louisville and missed all of last season with a foot injury.

Talk about a fast study. Roethlisberger said he jokes with Rogers about how annoying he is because of "how much he's in my ear asking questions."

"The more he can work the middle, the more safeties will have to respect him and stop cheating on AB," Roethlisberger said.

Now that Rogers is poised to be a factor in the offense, it's a good time to learn more about him...

The art of deception: Rogers likes to use precise route-running and quickness to his advantage. More pointedly, he likes "losing people" with his counter-moves on routes, he said.

The Steelers offense offers him plenty of opportunities to do just that.

"I feel like I'm a great illusionist if you will. I'm deceptive in my route running and I love that," he said. "It's all about angles and what the defense is looking at. If I get past a guy and I stick him and go to the post and I tuck my chin like I'm going tot the post, he's going to take off because that's what he's seeing, he's seeing emotions, and he really believes I'm going that way. I just like that because it's fun to me."

Rogers played running back in high school, which he believes helps him see all angles of the field while making a play.

Long road to success: An evaluation of Rogers' game begs the question -- how does an NFL wide receiver fail to record more than 536 yards in a collegiate season?

James Bush, Rogers' mentor and trainer out of the Miami area, understands the complexities of that answer. Without detailing too much, Bush said Rogers endured a difficult life in the Liberty City area of Miami, where teenagers are tempted with "fights, drugs, you name it."

Rogers fought through those temptations to become a high-profile recruit and Louisville signee. But without a father figure to mold him, Bush said, Rogers struggled to adjust to the basic responsibilities of college football, such as punctuality.

By the time he figured it all out, the Cardinals were switching from coach Charlie Strong to Bobby Petrino.

"Going undrafted humbled him," Bush said. "But he always felt he was this five years ago, it just didn't manifest until today. And he always had people in his life who would fight for him."

Perhaps Rogers needed time to convince others of what he already knew.

"I knew who I was and I know who I am," Rogers said. "I always felt I was one of the best in the world. Coming to this level, whatever is in you is going to push out."

Never forget: Before Bridgewater suffered a gruesome injury at Minnesota Vikings practice Tuesday, Rogers spoke fondly of his close friend.

The two played high school and college ball together, and recently Bridgewater sent Rogers a text picture of the two in ninth grade with the message, 'Never forget.'

Rogers wrote back: "You know I'm never going to forget. We came from nothing."

Bridgewater's response: "No doubt."

Rogers didn't have the picture available to him while talking this week, but he values Bridgewater's words more than visuals.

"He tells me to keep focused," Rogers said.

The culmination: Rogers was emerging last training camp before suffering the foot injury, a byproduct of a nagging issue in college.

Rogers has seized his chance this training camp, locking down two primary jobs as of now -- slot receiver, punt returner.

And he has coach Mike Tomlin's attention.

"He really has an understanding of playing in that interior space and he's consistently put that on display," Tomlin said.