Going to battle with teammates on an athletic field of competition creates a bond that is hard to quantify. The unifying element of the "us against the world" mentality often cultivates lifelong friendships. This brotherhood is nearly impossible to duplicate and the camaraderie shared between teammates can be the one thing that retired players miss the most from their playing days.
The NFL experience is the same, but different. While it is still the same game many of us grew up playing, both competitively and for fun, the stakes are certainly higher when the game is also your profession. There is a totally different level of pressure when your ability to play a game directly affects your bank account and your livelihood. Better not drop that pass or fumble that pigskin, your family is counting on you. Professionals are paid to handle all that pressure and still perform. Teammates understand that reality and are there to offer support, until they aren't. After all, there is only one ball, and sometimes there is only one job opening.
What happens when there are multiple talented receivers wanting the ball, but there is only one ball to go around? Even if they both run pristine routes and get wide open, one of them will inevitably be disappointed every passing play. Undoubtedly there will be hotly contested competition between the receivers, and multiple headaches for the quarterback. The Steelers have endured this scenario on two well documented occasions, with drastically different results.
The legendary rivalry between Hall of Famers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth during the 70's actually brought out the best in both players. Each man's burning desire to prove their superiority over the other drove their games to an elite status and helped the Steelers win four Super Bowls in a six year period. Now their busts reside together in Canton.
Last season the Steelers had two of the best receivers in the league pushing each other to new heights, all the while coveting additional opportunities to catch that single football. However this rivalry didn't lead to a Super Bowl championship or even a playoff appearance. Instead it led to one of the receivers becoming green with envy and forcing his way out of town rather than compete with the younger challenger - actions that proved to be both greedy and cowardly. Not exactly Hall of Fame behavior, but it is what it is.
All signs point to another heated receivers competition this season, but instead of competing for one ball this time they will be competing for one position. The Steelers will more than likely select another receiver in the 2019 NFL Draft, and they undoubtedly would love to obtain an receiver with length who excels outside the numbers. They already possess three strong options to work the slot in JuJu Smith-Schuster, Eli Rogers, and Ryan Switzer. Problem is they really only need two slot guys, and JuJu is the sure thing. So who is the odd man out?
JuJu is the star and has the aforementioned versatility. Second year receiver James Washington and free agent acquisition Donte Moncrief are outside receivers, with the team looking to add that talented receiver with length early in the draft. That leaves Rogers and Switzer likely fighting for the same roster spot. This seems fitting, since their games have far more similarities than differences. Those subtle differences may just decide who stays and who goes.
Both men are rather diminutive, especially for a professional football player. Each player is more quick than fast, relying on his short area quickness and change of direction abilities rather than superior long speed. We really didn't get an accurate assessment of their abilities last season with both men competing at less than 100%. I am sure they are chomping at the bit to get back on the field and show what they can do.
Rogers would have to be considered the superior receiver, while Switzer has proven to be the superior special teams performer. Rogers has experience and chemistry with Big Ben, but Switzer is the cheaper and younger option. One unforeseen variable in this competition will be this year's draft class. If the Steelers acquire a strong return man or two then Switzer may become expendable.
Rogers and Switzer can't afford to waste time worrying about the unknown; they must focus on controlling what they can control. That would be their effort and their attitudes. I would expect no less from two warriors who have overcome their shortcomings and each obstacle placed in their way to reach the NFL. Somebody will win the position, but there will be no losers in this competition.