PITTSBURGH — The Steelers are off on Monday morning, as the team traditionally takes one of its 10 OTA sessions off to do some team-building activities away from the practice field.
Later in the afternoon, the rookies will head over to UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh to visit with the patients there, play games and hope to brighten some days.
Most of the team is probably happy to have the day off from the tedium of OTAs, which stretch over three weeks in June.
But Steelers wide receiver Ryan Switzer might be the exception to that.
Switzer, 24, is going through his first offseason with the Steelers after being traded to Pittsburgh by the Oakland Raiders on the eve of the 2018 season.
Despite his late start, the 5-foot-8, 185-pound Switzer made an impact in his first season in black and gold.
After catching just six balls in his rookie season with the Dallas Cowboys, Switzer broke out for 36 catches for 253 yards and a touchdown. He also had seven carries, 30 punt returns and 30 kickoff returns.
He finished fourth on the team with 1,133 all-purpose yards, behind only James Conner, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown.
But the former fourth round pick out of North Carolina feels like he has more to give than he showed in 2018, and that starts with establishing the kind of foundation this summer that he wasn’t able to a year ago.
“For me, these reps are so precious,” Switzer said last week. “I didn’t get this time last year with this team and with Ben, so I’ve got to take advantage of everything I get.”
Switzer isn’t the only one going through his first set of OTAs with the Steelers, as free agent Donte Moncrief and rookie Diontae Johnson have arrived, and hope to build the same type of rapport with Roethlisberger.
Switzer doesn’t see them as competition (both have mostly played outside, while he plays in the slot), but also sees a deep and more-balanced wide receiver room.
“I think it’s going to be so big and important to them to get on the same page with Ben and the other quarterbacks as well so that when September comes, we can hit the ground running.”
One of the areas that Switzer might be in line for more targets this season is the red zone. Small, slot receivers aren’t what most people might think of when considering a prime-time red zone target, but after Roethlisberger found Switzer open for a score two times in a red zone drill last week, it’s certainly something that shouldn’t be ruled out.
“You see a lot of zone, usually, in the red zone,” Switzer explained. “They try to zone, bracket or combo. I think with my skillset, obviously, I’m not going to go over top of someone or win fade balls, but I can use my speed, quickness and intelligence to pick out holes in the zone and work my way open to give Ben a nice target.”
Interestingly enough, the area that was Switzer’s calling card coming to Pittsburgh might be the area that he wants to improve upon his 2018 numbers the most. A feared return man in college — ask any Pitt fan — Switzer had a touchdown and averaged 8.8 yards per punt return with Dallas in 2017. He didn’t score and his average fell to 8.4 in 2018. On kickoff returns, he averaged just 20.2 yards per return, the lowest in the NFL of any qualified return man.
“I’ve got a lot to improve on on last year,” Switzer said. “It wasn’t a terrible year for us as a unit, but certainly room for improvement. I’ve take some good steps this spring. I’m looking forward to that, as well.”
If Switzer can continue to develop within the Steelers’ offense at receiver and increases his production on returns to something approaching his collegiate level, they’ll have gotten a steal for the fifth-round pick they used to acquire him.
Highlights from Steelers Practice 9/25/20
It was all about wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster’s return and the Watt brothers at the final practice before the Steelers week 3 game against Houston.
Footage courtesy Pittsburgh Steelers
Highlights from Steelers Practice 9/24/20
While it’s odd to see referees standing out in a clip of highlights, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin’s plan to incorporate actual refs into practice this week happened on Thursday.
Tomlin explained he is adding refs to practice to ensure his team is more disciplined, which hopefully leads to less penalties in their game this week compared to last week.
Wide receivers James Washington, Diontae Johnson and tight end Eric Ebron run routes and catch passes in this clip.
Footage courtesy Pittsburgh Steelers
Ben Roethlisberger Says Form, Mechanics Can Be Better Despite Hot Start
To hear Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger tell it, he can better than what he’s shown on the field in his first two weeks since returning from elbow surgery.
He’s not happy with his footwork, he thinks he’s dropping his arm a bit and needs a more consistent release point.
The statistics, however tell another story. They say Roethlisberger has been operating at a higher level of precision than ever before. So which is it? Maybe both.
“I do feel I got a little lazy with my feet, which then, in turn, translated to a lazy arm,” Roethlisberger said. “There were some throws that I kind of dropped my elbow, if you will. I don’t want to get too technical, but it became more of a three-quarter release instead of an over the top when I didn’t need to. There are obviously times you have to change your release point. There were too many throws, I felt looking back, that I just have to get my feet working better, and that will then translate, hopefully, to the rest of the body. Then, I won’t be guiding some of the throws.”
Here’s an example from the game Roethlisberger’s form getting a little sloppy. He throws this ball flat-footed and almost all with his right side, getting less power behind it than usual and resulting in a pass that ends up behind JuJu Smith-Shuster instead of allowing him to build a head of steam toward the defenders at the line of scrimmage.
Is this a big deal here? Not really. Smith-Schuster probably couldn’t have done much better than he did at bulling over the defender, anyway. But this is also a route into the flat on the near side of the field. Over longer distances, that can make a big difference.
“I’ve gotten away with it in the past being able to not necessarily be perfect from the ground up and just letting my arm kind of make up for a lot of things, a lot of imperfections if you talk to quarterback people,” Roethlisberger said. “I feel great. I just need to get it in my mind that I can still make the throws when I’m not in the perfect position to make them.”
All of that can be true, and yet, it’s hard to argue with the results. Through two games, Roethlisberger has a 68.5 completion percentage. His career season high was 68% in 2015. In a game and a half last year, it was 56.5%.
His passer rating, even with an interception against the Broncos, is 107.1. His career season-long high came in 2o07, when he finished with a 104.1 mark. Last season before his injury, it was 66.
Some of that can be explained by a passing scheme that has take fewer deep shots down the field than it has in years past. His yards per pass attempt sits at 7.4, lower than all but four of his other 16 seasons.
Mechanical inconsistency can certainly have a greater impact on longer throws, so the Steelers’ somewhat more methodical offensive approach could be helping Roethlisberger get into the swing of things.
“Maybe some of that just comes from not playing a lot of football,” he posited. “I played two games this year. I played a game and a half last year, so really, it’s about three and a half games in two years if you think about it. It’ll come. Like I said, if I’m having these issues and we are still winning football games, that’s a plus.”
If a 2-0 record with career highs in passer rating and completion percentage is what he looks like with mechanical issues, the NFL should be very worried about what might happen if he gets into a groove.