Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley spoke with the folks at 93.7 The Fan this morning. Among the various topics they discussed, Haley spoke about filling the vacancy at receiver left by Martavis Bryant. The two focal points to fill this void are Markus Wheaton and Sammie Coates. Haley acknowledged right off the bat that it’s difficult for receivers who aren’t the go-to-guy to stay mentally strong and still make impact plays despite the minimal targets.
“…it’s easy being the number 1 guy knowing you’re going to get 20-25 balls a game. You know, it’s much tougher to be that 2nd or 3rd guy that may not see a ball for 2 quarters and then all of a sudden gotta make a big play on 3rd down,” said Haley
Still, though, he believes Wheaton showed a lot of mental toughness as the season wore on. He made some big impact plays in key moments. One being the Monday night game against San Diego when he hauled in a deep ball from Mike Vick and took it 70 yards to the house.
Haley seems pleased with the way Wheaton battled throughout the year, saying “…as the season progressed, even though Markus wasn’t putting up the type of numbers, you know, he probably would have liked, he showed a lot of mental toughness and the ability to just stay the course, keep working, be ready. And then as we got towards the back half of the season, I thought he really stepped up and made a lot of plays for us…having coached that position a long time, some guys go the other way and crack in that position and other guys, like him, he excelled and I thought that was really exciting.”
Wheaton saw 79 balls thrown his way in 2015, hauling in 44 of those for 749 yards and 5 touchdowns. Many of those coming later on in the season as Haley mentioned. He actually saw a dip in targets from the previous year, likely due to Bryant’s presence, but still managed to produce more yards and 3 more touchdowns. Last year’s numbers came on 8 starts, so imagine what impact he could have given a full season of consistent gameplay.
But there’s another guy in the mix as well. Second year receiver Sammie Coates has all the ability and the size to be a quality starter in the NFL, so this year will be a great opportunity for him to showcase what he has to offer.
“There is opportunity. As much as we can be in 3 receiver sets and things like that, I mean, guys know what the opportunity is…he’s another great kind of case study of a young guy coming into the league that isn’t the guy that’s been the guy in college,” said Haley.
Coates has had to bide his time and put in the reps during practice without getting the chances on the field, with the exception of the divisional playoff game against the Denver Broncos. There’s something to be said for that, considering all of these players are confident they can help. To have his skillset and not be able to contribute on game-day had to be difficult. But now he has a golden opportunity to put it all out there, especially with the variety of schemes Haley uses. There certainly will be room for Coates to make an impact. As for his work ethic, Haley says Coates has shown a desire to better himself every day.
“He’s worked as hard as anybody in the offseason. Every time you went into the building whether it was a work day, non-work day, offseason, he was there. And when you see those kind of things it gives you confidence and it gives the players around him confidence.”
That confidence will be needed this year for sure, considering the circumstances without Bryant. And I think we’re all excited to see what he can do. Darrius Heyward-Bey should find himself in the mix quite often as well, at least at the number 4 slot. Wheaton appears to have the number 2 spot secured, with Coates likely pushing for the 3rd spot. Whichever way it shakes out there are some good things to anticipate out of this group, and Haley sure seems to have confidence they will deliver as expected.