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.