Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wide receiver Sammie Coates got the nod to start on Sunday night against the Vikings in the Hall of Fame game, playing 43 snaps according to our stats, or about two-thirds of the game.
He only came down with one reception during the exhibition for 12 yards, but he flashed in other ways. He also put down a healthy dose of negatives on the day that probably does a good job of summing up where the third-round draft pick is in terms of development at this point in the offseason.
One thing that was clearly evident at times, and was one of his greatest traits in college that drew the Steelers to him, was his ability to work his way through a secondary, as he got past the final defender on a handful of occasions, even if none of them ultimately netted a reception.
On one occasion, he was able to burn past the Vikings’ first-round cornerback, whose primary asset was his speed. As Coates streaked toward the end zone, the cornerback was forced to grab hold of the receiver’s arm, drawing a long pass interference call and setting up a first and goal.
Setting up on the two-yard line after the 38-yard penalty, it was just two plays later, however, that Coates was unable to handle a tough pass in the left corner of the end zone. It was far from a gimme play, of course.
On the previous drive, the rookie put a beautiful move on the cornerback to get open from 18 yards out. Had Landry Jones delivered the ball to the right spot, it would have been an easy touchdown, but Coates also failed to work toward the ball after he saw that it was not on the expected target.
His one reception came late in the first quarter on a third and 13 play. Jones’ pass was actually tipped by a leaping defender, and Coates showed surprising concentration to find and secure the ball for the reception, even if the officials spotted the ball a yard shy of the first down.
A bit later in the game, however, he was clearly not on the same page as Jones as the quarterback targeted him on a deep corner route and he was heading toward the middle of the field.
None of this I have a problem with, although I did have some potential body language concerns, as I hope that he doesn’t develop a tendency to bail on a play that doesn’t go as planned. Much of the Steelers’ offense is predicated upon exploiting second-chance opportunities, and if he doesn’t consistently work back to the ball, then he will be a difficult target to rely upon.
As previously mentioned, in addition, I felt that he could have done more to track the ball on the two deep passes he was targeted on past he defense. There was also a bit of give up on at least one occasion on special teams that I saw. He was reported to have good body language early in the spring, so hopefully there is little to read into these minor signs.