With spring drills officially over, I think we all understand that we’re all in for a long haul, six weeks in total, between the end of minicamp and the start of training camp. You know the drill. There’s little new information coming out during this period, so it serves as the perfect time both to look back, and to look ahead.
We’re going to be focusing mostly on the latter as we prepare—ever so patiently, of course—for training camp. The Pittsburgh Steelers right now have a fairly young roster with inexperienced players that they are hoping to take on a bigger role. The problem is that in many cases, they are still waiting on those players to show them something, and that is the focus of that series.
Show me something, Sammie Coates.
When you really think about it, the Steelers really are not in any different position, at least as far as wide receiver goes, from where they were to start the 2015 season. That is, of course, because Martavis Bryant started the season with a four-game suspension and ended up missing the first five games.
They started the year, of course, with Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton as their starting wide receivers, as they figure to do this year as well, and veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey developed a role for himself in Bryant’s absence as well.
All three are back, but the Steelers are hoping to inject some major life into that wide receiver group with the emergence of second-year wide receiver Sammie Coates, whom the Steelers drafted last year with exactly this scenario in mind: a potentially long-term off-field situation with Bryant.
During his rookie season, Coates wasn’t anywhere near where the Steelers wanted him to be, and he ended up realizing he wasn’t where he wanted to be either. That all started from a fitness and conditioning standpoint, and his practice reviews during the first half of the regular season were not particularly favorable.
The tone changed as the season progressed, and he showed signs of life when called upon during the Steelers’ Divisional Round game after Brown suffered a concussion. He caught two passes, each explosive plays with notable yards after the catch, and he also ended up drawing a pass interference penalty.
A couple of catches, even on a big stage, is not exactly a complete body of work, however. If he wants to see a good deal of playing time this year, he will have to show that he has been steadily growing since the end of last season, and, to be fair, he has gotten off to a strong start in that regard, with coaches exhorting his conditioning and beat writers noting some long bombs that he has reeled in.
Spring drills are one thing, of course. We still have to see him in pads, then in the preseason, and then in the real games. He will have to compete for playing time with Heyward-Bey, who still logged several more snaps than he did in that Denver game.
In particular, he must show polish on his routes that leads to separation at the catch point. He must show improved concentration skills with the ball in the air, and consistency in hanging on to the ball. drops have been part of his credentials since college, and beat writers are still writing about drops. He has even talked about it during OTAs.
He has all the physical talent in the world to be a top receiving threat in this offense. But first he has to show he has everything else it takes to get to that level, and that starts with working your way up the depth chart.