If you were to talk to any Pittsburgh Steelers fan who was alive for the 1990s team, and asked them what they think of when they think of a quarterback converted to a wide receiver.
The answer is likely one name — Kordell Stewart.
Stewart, who was called “Slash” for all the positions he could play early in this NFL career, captivated the fan base as a rookie, not as a quarterback, but as a wide receiver. Steward eventually took over at quarterback when Neil O’Donnell left, but many wonder if his career would have been better off had he stayed as a receiver.
Fast forward to 2018, and the Steelers are working on another college quarterback converting to wide receiver. The only difference is the team has no interest in Justin Thomas being anything other than a receiver for the black-and-gold.
This transition wasn’t an easy one for Thomas.
“I know when Coach (Mike Tomlin) talked to me, he said, ‘You can go into it having a (negative) mindset, or you can just flip your whole mind and be that much better,’“ Thomas told Chris Adamski o the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review from minicamp earlier this month. “So I am trying to go into that mindset: 100 percent receiver. That’s where I am at right now, that’s what my situation is, and I am trying to embrace it as much as possible.”
The Steelers have a new wide receivers coach in Darryl Drake, taking over for retired Richard Mann, and Drake has been impressed with the strides Thomas has taken in such a short amount of time.
“He’s still learning – but he does have some talent,” Drake said. “When they brought in him here, they saw he had some quickness and some speed. He’s still in the process of learning, and he understands and knows that learning happens and that he has to continue to grow – but it has to grow fast if he’s going to have a chance to play.”
The odds of Thomas making the team’s 53-man roster are slim-to-none, but it doesn’t mean he couldn’t fill one of ten potential practice squad spots this season. Either way, Drake is hoping Thomas continues to work and progress all the way into training camp.
“It takes a guy a little bit of time to learn the intricacies of wide receiver because we ask the guys to learn so much,” Drake said. “Guys have to understand and know the whole offense and learn every position because we will put them in every spot. He is growing, and we will push him to grow. Hopefully as we get going into training camp he will develop his ability to help us in some form or fashion.”
As for Thomas’ mindset heading into training camp starting July 25th?
“I’m just going out there trying to take advantage of each day and progress.”
With Martavis Bryant gone and Eli Rogers coming off a torn ACL, there is a sliver of a chance to make waves at the receiver position. Only time will tell if Thomas’ versatility turns heads when it matters most.