Pittsburgh Steelers third year wide receiver Sammie Coates probably couldn’t have timed his return to the practice field any better. Coates, who was removed from the Steelers Active PUP list on Wednesday, hit the field right away and now presumably has plenty of time to battle for a roster spot being as the team still has three preseason games remaining.
While fellow Steelers wide receiver Justin Hunter opened this year’s training camp with some impressive practices, the buzz about him has since cooled somewhat and especially since he missed the preseason opener with an injury. In short, Hunter has played in as many preseason games as Coates has this year, which is zero.
So, are Coates and Hunter indeed battling each other and each other alone for one spot on this year’s 53-man roster? It’s hard to say for sure, but with that said, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin sure made it seem that way during Wednesday’s training camp practice.
According to Mike Prisuta of steelers.com, Tomlin was quick to point out to Coates during Wednesday’s practice that Hunter made a nice “toe-tap touchdown along the sideline in the end zone” during one-on-one drills against the cornerbacks.
“Sammie, he’s [Hunter] grabbing that,” Tomlin reportedly said, according to Prisuta. “You gotta start grabbing that.
“Two dogs, one bone; I’m going to start applying pressure.”
Tomlin’s use of the “two dogs, one bone” saying Wednesday certainly isn’t new and might not necessarily mean that Coates and Hunter are potentially doing battle the rest of the offseason for just one roster spot. After all, Tomlin used that same motivational tactic several years ago when wide receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders were both rookies. With that said, Brown and Sanders were both draft picks that year with odds at the time being extremely likely that both would ultimately make the 53-man roster.
The two dogs, one bone situation with Coates and Hunter is a little bit different than the Brown and Sanders one as the former duo has already been in the league for a few years with very limited success achieved so far by both.
On the surface, veteran wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey should likely be considered a third dog battling for the same bone that Coates and Hunter are, but in reality, Steelers special teams coordinator Danny Smith might just hold the key this year that unlocks the door to Heyward-Bey’s spot on the 2017 53-man roster.
Coates and Hunter can both probably be considered better receiving options than Heyward-Bey currently is at this stage of his career. With that said, Heyward-Bey is better a special team player than both Coates and Hunter are combined. For all practical purposes, it’s probably not unreasonable to call Heyward-Bey just a player at this point and not so much a wide receiver. If the Steelers keep him on their 53-man roster again this year, he’ll be the 2017 version of Arnaz Battle, a former NFL wide receiver who spent two seasons in Pittsburgh as a special teams player.
While Coates is easily a better special teams player than Hunter currently is, and that’s not likely to change in the Steelers final three preseason games, being so isn’t going to be enough to allow him to stick on the 53-man roster this year. In short, and assuming Smith will ultimately decide what happens with Heyward-Bey during final cuts, Coates will have to make more plays on offense than Hunter does during the final three preseason games to secure a 53-man spot.
If, however, Coates and Hunter both ultimately wind up making the 53-man roster this year, the two dogs, one bone mantra from Tomlin is likely to continue weekly moving forward into the regular season as it relates to which one of the two will dress every week for games.