Bringing you back another Pittsburgh Steelers’ interview courtesy of our good friend Ron Lippock of the Pittsburgh Sports Daily Bulletin. Today, we bring you his interview with wide receiver Demarcus Ayers. It’s one of the most in-depth ones you’ll see all summer. They talk about Ayers’ rookie season, how he spent his offseason, and the most critical people were in keeping his spirits high.
First, tell us a bit about how this offseason differs from last one for you?
Well it’s not so much new, just more competition. It’s been more competitive as a team this year versus last year. We had great attendance in OTAs and mini-camp – the key players showed up besides Bell.
Any concern amongst teammates about Bell?
Well many of the players around the league don’t show up to OTAs and mini-camp. I don’t know Le’Veon’s situation but I don’t think it’s about money, just knowing him as a person. I think it’s more about the surgery he had and coming off of it. I know what that’s like. Once he’s back we all know what he’ll give us. I don’t think anyone has any concerns. And it helps because the guys behind him get more reps and that’s huge for us. You don’t get those once the season starts. And that’s chances for receivers in the passing game not just backs.
So you mentioned before it’s more competitive in camp – to some degree for you because of all of the new receivers brought in. Considering the growth you had as the season progressed last year, how frustrating is that for you?
I can only be the best player I can be, I’m just tired of people saying I’m just a special teams player only. I didn’t take a special teams snap at all last year.
I worked while injured in camp – I worked on my game – no special teams snaps after the preseason. I got on the roster as a wide receiver – no matter how it happened.
Now, I know the opportunities are limited. I’m behind great receivers and gained great knowledge from the receivers and just keep competing. I enjoy being a part of the best wide receiver group, with a Hall of Fame quarterback, great organization…Whatever the politics, I’ll just be the best receiver I can be.
Does the fact that you’re a different kind of receiver than many of those guys they brought in help you?
I think so. We’ve got everything we need. All of these guys could either start or play big roles on other teams. AB is the best route runner in the NFL. Martavis is one of the best deep threats and Hunter one of the best red zone guys. Coates is one of the best deep guys too when he’s consistent.
Cobi is a good situational guy and Eli is the best slot receiver in the NFL. And DHB is one of the best special teams guys in the NFL.
I’m an inside-outside guy. I’m a space player and I know Coach Tomlin loves guys that can make big plays in space. We all bring something different to the table. So it’s hard to get opportunities – you have to take advantage of them when you do.
What are you hearing from the coaches about what you have to do to succeed?
Consistency is the key. What you read in the blogs this time of year doesn’t reflect what’s really going on. OTA’s are just guys in shorts. It’s not football. Wait until guys have to know the playbook, get open in zones and beat man to man, take hit. We’ll see who impacts the game on offense and special teams. It’ an impact game – once we get in pads you get a feel for the guys. That dictates everything.
Speaking of getting a feel for things. Any new wrinkles in the offense that help you especially?
Oh yeah – I think we’ll run more four wide-receiver sets than we did last year. AB and Martavis on the outside and Eli and me or JuJu in the slot. With all of these receivers, I think we’ll keep six. With more receivers on the field and 26 in the backfield, they’ll be lots of big plays. It’ll be crazy, especially with the offensive line we have.
How much did it mean to you to be able to contribute with significant plays at the end of last season?
It meant a lot. Beginning and mid-season, I didn’t know if I’d get a chance. I hurt my foot in camp and was still recovering from a groin injury from college. A number of things were topping me from being as good as I wanted. But I battled through. I got to be consistent – lifted weights and rehabbed and was able to practice and create opportunities. No setbacks then – I got the chance to get practice reps and those were huge to me.
And the guys kept me going on the sidelines. They made me feel a part of it all and that was important. The staff and players did a great job of putting me in situations so I was ready and even the sideline conversations with players and staff helped me. They kept me engaged and helped me to develop.
Who helped mentor you most- and what did they say that stuck with you?
Coach Mann with his inspirational talks. He talked about guys in Tampa Bay who worked their way up the roster to start and contribute. And AB talked about things with me to help me figure things out. And Eli was a huge help last year. I have a lot of respect for him – we were competing for the same spot but he worked with me. I have to hand it to him – we helped each other – I told him what I’d do better and he did that for me. Even AB would come to the sideline and ask me about how he handled a punt return or catch. They all kept me really engaged when I wasn’t healthy.
Changing topics – how has humor played a part in your time there – any rookie hazing, etc?
Not a lot of hazing. We always had to get food for your position group = but there were a few rookie receivers so that made it easier. Deebo made a rookie sing every day at lunch when they’d get their food, but I always got my food to go so I never got caught. We had it easy really.
You talked about the offensive changes. Any early things you’ve noticed about what changes the defense is bringing this season?
Oh yeah – a number of things. They got so creative this offseason. More disguising – they confused us a lot on offense. They did a wonderful job of mixing up looks and communicating. It was really hard to get good pre-snap reads.
Watt batted down passes every day. His impact will be huge – staying at home on reverses and ability to time balls and stay at home. Artie was really good. Sutton did a good job and Sensabaugh was a good addition – his knowledge of the game is big. Golson looks really good.
You think the defense is doing more because the young guys are more ready?
I think so. The way they were disguising things – the communication was better than last year. And they have the flexibility and athleticism to create chaos with different looks. Much less miscommunication.
And that helps the offense too, right?
Yeah – you see a number of new things to give us everything we need to see when the season starts. You never know what you’re going to get from other teams so getting better looks in practice than last year really helps. We’re better prepared because of it.
So – any thoughts for the season?
I just want to be in the same position this year as we were last year. Hopefully against the same team to show what we can really do. It’s a unique thing we have here with all of the depth we have. When guys went down last year it was always hard to overcome. This year we have more experience in our depth.
And staying healthy is key?
Any last thoughts for readers?
Yeah – I have a website that will launch soon so watch out for it. It’ll have everything fans want – hats, accessories, shorts…I want to tell kids that if you have a vision and you have the right people around you you can do anything, Demarcus Ayers Tunnel Vision. Stay focused and have the right people round you.
Be sure to check out Ron’s book, Steelers’ Takeaways: Player Memories Through The Decades, featuring over 400 interviews with players and coaches, past and present. You can buy it on Amazon through the link provided here.