The preseason is the first taste that we get to see the Pittsburgh Steelers’ rookie class in action, and, far more often than not, it’s the most significant amount of game action they will see all year, barring injuries.
That certainly figures to be the case for third-round wide receiver Sammie Coates, who started as one of the two outside receivers for the Steelers on Sunday night with no less than four wide receivers sitting the game out, and another player who was ahead of him on the depth chart waived with an injury.
He was not, however, the top receiver in the game, as when the Steelers moved to 22 personnel, it was first-year C.J. Goodwin, who spent all of last season on the practice squad, who was the line wide receiver on the field. Just something worth noting, as it happened on two of the first four offensive plays alone.
Another thing that I feel compelled to note before getting started is that I didn’t see Coates display much urgency and finishing plays, let alone playing to the whistle. On the Steelers’ first punt, once the returner ran away from him, he immediately began dogging it. He is disengaged when he is not involved in the play, and I want to see that trend the other way.
But when he flashed in the receiving game, he certainly created excitement. His first and only reception of the game was impressive for multiple reasons. The Landry Jones was deflected by a defender, and Coates had the presence of mind to adjust and find the ball, doing so through aggressive corner play trying to swipe at the ball.
You can see on the play above that when he sees the opportunity to make a play, he has the wherewithal to do so. We also saw that on the first play of the second quarter, when Goodwin fumbled. Coates was initially disengaged and merely jogged in pursuit until he realized that not only could he make a play on the ball carrier, he needed to.
Later, Coates was double viced as a gunner, but he allowed himself to get knocked to the ground. Fortunately, for Coates anyway, the punt resulted in a touchback. He did, however, come back on the Vikings’ next punt and throw a block, though the punt was ultimately downed.
It was on that subsequent drive that Coates had what should have been an 18-yard touchdown, had Jones placed the ball where it should have been. The rookie wide receiver was pretty smooth in his route, losing only minimal speed on a double move that left the cornerback in a trail position four yards behind.
Later in the quarter, we get a glimpse of Coates working as a blocker on offense. He gets an incomplete grade on this block, because while it was incomplete, it seems clear that the play as it was designed should have left him on the backside.
Prior to the snap, he motioned toward the formation from out wide, turning and chipping at the incoming linebacker. Had the play gone to the right, as it looks like it should have been, that probably would have been sufficient, but this can also be looked at as an example of the necessity of finishing a play. Coates is a big receiver who showed physical traits in college. He has the tools to become a legitimate blocker at the position.
It was on the next play that Coates seemed to run an incorrect route, with Jones’ throw going to the corner and the receiver crossing to the middle of the field. But a few plays later, he drew a pass interference call worth 38 yards, winning with speed to the outside.
He got the first crack out of three passes from the one-yard line that followed, and though he ultimately dropped what was a difficult catch, there were certainly some mitigating factors. For one, the snap came early, which threw everything off. He was also grabbed on to by the defensive back. The fact that he freed himself well enough to have as quality a look at the ball as he got was in itself an accomplishment.