The Pittsburgh Steelers training camp is well underway and the pads are finally on. This has given the players an opportunity to show their physicality and football chops on the field, and thus provide exposure to the national media on how they are developing. One group in particular, the wide receivers, have gotten some recognition in light of Martavis Bryant’s season long suspension. NFL.com reporter/writer Judy Battista was particularly high on this group in a recent article, especially when it comes to their young talent Sammie Coates.
Coates saw minimal playing time last year, largely appearing on scout team, but this year he has a big opportunity to become a significant factor in Todd Haley’s offense. Obviously Markus Wheaton is pushing for the number 2 spot behind Antonio Brown, but Coates has a chance to show what he can provide, and Battista thinks he will see most of Bryant’s targets in 2016.
“In the week since the Steelers opened camp, nobody has excited coaches more than Coates…In a crowded and talented wide receiver room, Coates is likely to be one of the biggest recipients of the reps that Bryant would have taken, especially because he is skilled at handling the deep ball, a specialty the Steelers otherwise lose with Bryant gone,” she writes.
The coaches certainly do seem to be very high on Coates, with many reports saying the receiver has put in a ton of overtime working on his craft. Perhaps Brown is rubbing off on him a little bit. And at 6’2” 212 pounds, he would appear to be the most likely to mirror the effects that Bryant had, but let’s remember he’s his own player who has an array of skills that we haven’t had the chance to see on the field just yet.
He caught just one pass in the regular season and hauled in 2 passes for 61 yards in the playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos. That game, though disappointing, helped put Coates on the map. And all of the hard work throughout the offseason has helped him gain some recognition, so much so that Battista believes he has separated himself from the rest of the pack.
“When camp opened, he was noticeably faster and more confident than the Steelers had seen him before. His has been the breakout story of the summer.”
Let’s hope things remain that way, as we all know the Steelers can’t afford to lose any receivers. And Coates isn’t the only one getting attention. Wheaton has shown he can be a productive receiver in the Haley offense. He largely played in the slot when Bryant was available, but with a recent vacancy there, Wheaton may have to get used to playing more on the outside. Battista addressed this directly and quotes Wheaton who feels he can be productive in both the slot and the outside.
“I’m excited about the opportunity,” Wheaton said. “I don’t care where I play. My average was pretty high, too, on the inside. I’m wide open. I just want to catch balls. We have guys that play outside. I’m not against staying inside, too.”
Wheaton caught 44 passes for 749 yards and 5 touchdowns in a fill-in/slot role throughout the year. And it’s important to note that this is a contract year for Wheaton, who is entering his 4th NFL season.
Among the others are Darrius Heyward-Bey, who has proven to be a home-run threat, and Eli Rogers, who has caught the eye of many and who seems to have a good rapport with Haley. It wouldn’t be surprising if we see Haley deal up some different looks and schemes throughout the year in an effort to include all of the receivers in a number of different ways. They all bring something a little different to the table, which bodes well for their chances to throw off defenses.
As training camp continues this will be a group of receiving worth watching, because there is a glaring opportunity for someone to step up and make a big impact.