The last time a Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver was labeled a one-trick pony, it turned out that he kind of was, and it was a trick that became less and less successful the more it was exposed. It also didn’t help that there has been a different arm delivering the ball to that pony for the past couple of seasons.
The above reference is, of course, to Mike Wallace, a third-round draft pick by the Steelers in 2009 who made an immediate impact as a rookie with over 750 receiving yards and six touchdowns, averaging nearly 20 yards per reception.
He followed it up the following season with the best year of his career, making 16 starts and hauling in 10 touchdowns on 60 receptions worth 1257 yards, leading the league by averaging a full 21 yards per reception.
As Wallace became just incrementally less productive and more undependable, failing to display the ability to shed the one-trick pony moniker pinned upon him by head coach Mike Tomlin, it was obvious that he would eventually be out of town.
Steelers rookie wide receiver Sammie Coates is hoping to shed the perception of being a one-trick pony as soon as possible, despite the similarities that he brings with him entering the league as an unpolished speedster who has thrived on the long ball in college.
That may be how much of his college career had gone, but that is not his game as Coates sees it himself, and he has every intention of making that known this offseason—although it’s unlikely that he finds a similar opportunity to be productive in his rookie season that Wallace was afforded due to a lack of quality depth.
Coates spoke to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN during the Rookie Symposium earlier this offseason, telling the writer that he was excited by Todd Haley’s offensive system in part because it offered him the opportunity to “display his range”.
And this is certainly true, as should be obvious to any avid follower of this site, as we have explored the idea of multiplicity of sets for every wide receiver on more than one occasion over the course of the past year.
Under Haley’s system, as Coates explained to Fowler, it is imperative that every wide receiver learn and become comfortable in running from every position. Nobody is exclusively an X, Y, or Z receiver, nor is anybody strictly and outside or slot player. Martavis Bryant, at 6’4”, logged a fair share of time in the slot early on last year, for example.
Coates relayed that he “never knew where he was lining up until the play was called” during offseason workouts. Something that Wallace was never able to master during his time in Pittsburgh is to be variable, and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that his responsibilities were simplified.
Haley’s offense does not run that way, as it thrives on the ability to create mismatches by exploiting unconventional sets, which relies upon the ability of every receiver to learn every position. Coates fully intends to become an integral part of that offensive philosophy as he broadens his resume and alters the perception of his game.