As the Pittsburgh Steelers enter their sixth practice of training camp on Thursday, a lot of focus has been on second-year wide receiver Sammie Coates as possibly being a prime candidate to help overcome the loss this year of suspended wide receiver Martavis Bryant. However, lost in the early training camp news and practice notes is veteran wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, but his position coach Richard Mann reminded everyone on Wednesday just how important the former first round draft pick of the Oakland Raiders is to the team.
“I think Hey-Bey has come here and he’s found a home,” said Mann in an interview that was aired Wednesday on Steelers Nation Radio. “He knows his role; he plays it well. We use him all over, he’s like a joker, we just move him around and he knows what to do. And like I said and if we get a game plan and we’re going to play him in a certain position, then we teach him how to do it during the week. As long as he knows what to do, we feel like we can get him taught on how to do it.”
Last season when Bryant missed the first four games of the regular season due to a suspension and the fifth with a minor knee injury, Heyward-Bey stepped right in and delivered as the veteran caught 17 passes for 209 yards and 2 touchdowns. After Bryant finally returned to action, Heyward-Bey became a role player on offense in addition to continuing to play on special teams like he’s done since arriving in Pittsburgh.
While he went on to catch just 4 more passes during the regular season once Bryant supplanted him in the lineup, those additional grabs averaged just over 26 yards and he also added two more catches for 64 yards in the Divisional Round playoff loss to the Denver Broncos.
While it’s quite obvious the Steelers are hoping that Coates can play a big part in helping the offense overcome the loss of Bryant in 2016, he’s still very much unproven as he enters his second season. Because of that, you can probably expect Heyward-Bey to get his fair share of playing time early on in the season as the Auburn product tries to prove that he can be an every-down player
“Somebody else has got to come through,” Mann said of the loss this season of Bryant. “We’ve got a couple of other players that’s on our squad that didn’t play a lot last year. We’re looking for them to grow, get better and pick up the slack that we lose when we lose Martavis.”
Expect Heyward-Bey to be one of many asked to help pick up some of that slack while helping Coates pick up some of it as well.
“He’s smart, he knows the offense and he helps me out with the younger guys,” Mann said of his veteran wide receiver.