Although the Pittsburgh Steelers were blindsided yesterday afternoon by the news that second-year wide receiver Martavis Bryant was tagged with a four-game suspension to begin the 2015 season, they do have two weeks, and two preseason games, to prepare to make do without him.
One player who can really use these last two preseason games to take advantage of an opportunity is rookie wide receiver Sammie Coates, who figures to serve as the number four wide receiver while Bryant is suspended, and then be slotted down to the fifth spot when he returns.
Coates, a third-round draft pick, has a wealth of talent, but his college scouting report of inconsistent hands is carrying itself over, and then some, to the professional ranks.
Coupled with his raw route running and head coach Mike Tomlin’s statements about his conditioning level, and it is clear that the team is not prepared to trust him at the moment with any type of substantial role in the offense.
That is why veteran wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey is on the roster. He will in all likelihood command the lion’s share of 11 personnel snaps over Coates while Bryant is suspended. He matches Coates’ size and speed—as well as hands—but is a highly-conditioned athlete and a willing contributor in all phases of the game on offense and special teams.
Through three preseason games, Coates has been targeted 18 times, completing eight receptions for 124 yards, to go along with at least four drops, including two drops in the last preseason game.
But he also had an impressive 54-yard over the shoulder catch on a deep ball that he had to slow up just a bit for. Failing that, he may have had the opportunity to go the distance.
He has shown a number of times this season that he has the ability to get through a secondary and get open. He has also shown, however, inconsistency in tracking those balls. But his ability to create space down the field is in itself a weapon that has already drawn a penalty or two during this exhibition period.
Tomlin said yesterday that Coates may be in a bit better shape than Bryant was this time of year last season, but one must remember that Bryant spent the first six games of his rookie season on the inactive list, even when they only dressed four wide receivers.
This season, Coates figures to be granted an opportunity that Bryant was not afforded until well into the beginning of his rookie season, which is, quite simply, a chance to get a helmet and possibly see the field right away.
A year ago, Bryant used that opportunity to place his name on the map and make himself indispensable to the offense, and from then on he immediately began to leach snaps from the other wide receiver en route to a touchdown explosion.
It is highly unlikely that Coates replicates that performance, or even gets the same level of opportunities as the fourth wide receiver, but a good early showing during the first few games can buy some trust from his starting quarterback. That starts, however, with the next two preseason games.