Stepping up after too many injuries to count, Demarcus Ayers is setting his sights on an even better second season. And Mike Tomlin is right there with him.
Speaking to Missi Matthews last week, Tomlin made it a point to mention Ayers’ name when asked about the rookie class heading into year two. The question referred to Artie Burns, Sean Davis, and Javon Hargrave but Tomlin circled back to the team’s 7th round pick.
“I’m also excited about guys like Demarcus Ayers, who worked his way through the practice squad to the active roster to contributing in some ways at the end,” he said, via Steelers.com. “We got good young people. They work hard. They’re legitimately humble and rightly focused and that’s an exciting thing.”
Ayers’ came onto the season late, making an impact in the thrilling win over the Baltimore Ravens and leading the charge in the Week 17 victory against the Cleveland Browns. A then-unknown hernia injury hindered him in the playoffs, and held him out of the AFC Championship game, but he contributed more than probably anyone – including the coaching staff – expected in Year One.
Steelers.com’s Teresa Varley grabbed some excellent quotes from Ayers, who explained how he spent his rookie season, especially when he was still on the practice squad.
“I would watch the games with the others practice squad players, and remember everything they went over during the week as it played out on the field. I would call out plays, and when watching away games on television, rewind like I was in the film room.”
Ayers told Varley he did the same even after his 53 man roster call-up, going home each night to watch his performance again, getting a head start on Monday meetings and film study sessions.
The wide receiver room is going to be more crowed in 2017, initially at least, with the addition of Justin Hunter and presumed return of Martavis Bryant. But Ayers can make his mark in the slot and in the return game, where with a “a lap around the track,” to steal a phrase from Tomlin, could give him a leg-up. Ayers was drafted as a punt reutrner but as a rookie, it was nearly an impossible task for him to beat out Antonio Brown. In year two? Maybe it’s a different story.
He says becoming stronger is a key for him into his second year, helping him beat press, make contested catches, and as a blocker, though he showed a lot of willingness in the latter, playing bigger than his size. He said he’s betting on himself to make that jump into Year Two and coming into camp in the best shape of his life.
Eli Rogers, as of this writing at least, is going to enter 2017 as the team’s starting slot receiver. But I think Ayers is ready to give him a push.