Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said after the team’s second preseason game that one of the causes of some of rookie wide receiver Sammie Coates’ lapses has to do with his level of conditioning, given that he didn’t have to work as hard to get open and get separation on a play-to-play basis in college.
There is certainly evidence to support this in the game tape, and it is something that Coates is aware of. A symptom of this can be traced to the nature of the playing time that he has received through the first two games, as he seems to often come off the field for a series to get a rest.
Not that he has failed to show off some of the potential that landed him in Pittsburgh as a third-round pick in the draft, of course. Through two games, Coates has made six receptions for 64 yards.
He has been targeted 14 times, however, and has at least two certain drops to his resume. In other instances, he was clearly not on the same page with his quarterback, or he struggled to track the ball when it was in the air, though he has also drawn a couple of penalties due to his abilities.
Coates acknowledged that he would probably be able to flash his skill set with more frequency as he improves his conditioning. “You always have to be fast no matter what”, he shared, adding that you have to “play fast and stay fast the whole game”.
Such conditioning questions also followed second-year wide receiver Martavis Bryant last year, with fatigue at times limiting his ability to get on the field, and to make plays while on the field.
That is why veteran wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey emphasized to Bryant during his rookie season the need for him to improve his conditioning heading into his second year, which is a message that he took to heart.
Bryant and Coates have both come into the league in now dissimilar ways, with skill sets and weaknesses that overlap. As he heads into his second year, Bryant has fixed his mindset on the goal of being a dominant player, and much of that has had to do with maximizing his level of conditioning.
While Coates acknowledges that he tries to follow the tireless example of Antonio Brown with respect to work ethic, he can also look to Bryant to see the strides that he has made in comparison to where he was at this time a year ago.
The rookie has a number of valuable resources available to him in the wide receiver room, and I don’t doubt that Heyward-Bey has already spoken to him on the subject of conditioning.
We have seen the flashes. His first catch was a nice comeback off a tipped pass in which he fought through contact and held on. Later he burned the defensive back on a double move that should have gone for a touchdown. He had an impressive sideline catch for a key third-down conversion in the last game. One step toward making this all a common occurrence is to make sure he can maximize every route by fighting off fatigue.