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—as well as the occasional veteran with lingering questions.
Show me something, Darrius Heyward-Bey.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are without a doubt in championship mode. It’s little secret that their hopes lie primarily on the shoulders of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown, but in order to build a championship offense, they will need as many weapons as possible on the receiving end of passes.
With one of their biggest receiving weapons being sidelined for the year, and perhaps beyond, due to Martavis Bryant’s suspension, the Steelers are hoping to cobble together enough productivity from Markus Wheaton and second-year man Sammie Coates to boast an offense that can put up 30 points on any team at any time.
That is a situation that calls for all hands on deck, and one player who has not always had the reputation for having excellent hands would be former first-round draft pick Darrius Heyward-Bey, who is entering his third season with the Steelers on a new three-year deal.
Heyward-Bey’s receiving role expanded last season during Bryant’s five-game absence to start the season, and he did produce some plays, but he still recorded three drops by our reckoning last season, and only caught 21 of 39 targets.
He still was good for 21 receptions for 314 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but a situation could easily be foreseen in which the Steelers offense will have no choice but to call upon him in an even greater capacity than at any point last season, particularly without the security of Bryant coming back any time soon.
Wheaton has lacked the consistency that you look for in a starter and Coates is largely untested. Should anything happen to Brown they would be in highly questionable shape if Heyward-Bey were unable to deliver in a substantial role.
One area in which he did deliver last season was as a deep threat, as he caught a handful of passes that went for 40 yards or more. He was recently tracked going upwards of 25 miles per hour, so he clearly has his speed, and he knows how to be a professional. Can he start if he needed to though?