PITTSBURGH — The 2019 Steelers’ passing offense figures to be a far more balanced unit than the 2018 version, when All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown drew a large number of touches and significant attention from opposing defenses.
In 2019, Ben Roethlisberger is going to have to move the ball around a little bit more to offset that loss, but it’s something that he’s looking forward to.
“It’ll be fun,” Roethlisberger said on the first day of mandatory minicamp on Tuesday. “There’s some holes, some losses. It’s obvious, but we’ve got a lot of guys that desire to fill those voids. It’s not going to be one person, it’s going to be a lot of different people.”
One of those people will certainly be third-year receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who is expecting a larger amount of attention and double teams from defenses in 2019. One of the ways the Steelers hope to combat that is by moving Smith-Schuster around.
“You’ve guys seen me play inside and outside, even playing tight end this year,” he said. “I’ll have the opportunity to go out wide. That’s what is great about our room. We’ve got guy that can play everywhere and not just one position. We’re not centering off one person, because we know everyone can make plays: tight ends, running backs, receivers.”
There’s plenty of other new wrinkles to the offense, too. The biggest addition might be free-agent signing Donte Moncrief. Roethlisberger has praised his work ethic and the speed at which he’s picked up the offense.
“I kind of know what to expect from some of the other guys, but I wasn’t really sure what to expect when he came in,” Roethlisberger said. “Obviously, we’ve played against him and I’ve seen him go against us in game situations, but I didn’t know him as a person. Now, just getting to see his work ethic, the type of person he is, his desire to be great, his knowledge of the offense already. … He’s in with Coach [Darryl] Drake every single morning, pretty much all day. You seen the desire and want-to-be-great, so I’ve enjoyed getting to know him and work with him so far.”
The last two times the Steelers went out and added an offensive playmaker from outside the organization, it happened late in training camp, or even after camp had broken. They acquired Ryan Switzer and Vance McDonald in August the last two years. This time, Moncrief was able to go with the offensive skill players to Ben’s lake house before OTAs and has been in lock step with his quarterback since day one.
“It really helps, because this is an opportunity, not just to be here, but in training camp,” Roethlisberger said. “I didn’t get to do that with Vance one year, we didn’t do that with Switz, whether its through trades or something the last week of camp or right before the last preseason. You have to try to learn someone really quick and learn about each other.
“This is an awesome opportunity that he’s here and we’re getting to work together. He was with us when we went on our trip. It’s been fun to get to know him as a person, too.”
There has also been an infusion of youthful talent into the Steelers’ passing game plans. Rookie receiver Diontae Johnson has drawn positive reviews and fourth-round tight end Zach Gentry continues to look like a potential red zone target.
The combination of new roles for returning players, new additions from outside the organization and young players joining the mix has put more on Roethlisberger’s plate this spring from a teaching perspective, and it’s one of the reasons he cited for participating in more of the team’s OTA’s than he has in the past.
“Some of these young guys coming in maybe don’t understand everything, so I try and tell them what I expect,” Roethlisberger said. “Coaches can coach a guy what the paper says on a route and do certain things, but ultimately it comes down to what does the quarterback want and expect, so I try to let those guys know so there’s no real secrets. Communication is always important.”