The start of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2018 regular season has been far from free of worries, but one thing that they have been able to rely upon pretty consistently was that they would see plays being made by their wide receivers.
While the team knew that they have talent there, the retirement of beloved wide receivers coach Richard Mann this offseason, who helped to turn Antonio Brown into the all-world player he has become, and to get JuJu Smith-Schuster quickly on the field contributing in a significant fashion, did raise some concerns about what would follow.
Head Coach Mike Tomlin elected to replace him with another veteran wide receivers coach in Daryl Drake, who in many ways has a similar approach to coaching the position that Mann did, emphasizing technique and doing the dirty work, including blocking.
There were some growing pains during the year, especially with the missed connections between Brown (who missed most of training camp and the preseason) and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, but that was more on the latter than the former, and things have changed over the past two weeks. Smith-Schuster has been pretty consistently performing week in and week out.
He has, however, had his blemishes here and there. Especially over the past few weeks, he has exhibited a tendency to double-catch footballs, and that has led to a couple of drops and opportunities for defenders to break up passes that could have been caught.
In a sense, that puts a smile on Drake’s face, because it’s something that he gets to work on. “I’m never happy, because I think we can always do something better”, he said. “So that’s a process. We’ll keep pushing the envelop and wanting them all to continue to grow and get better because that’s the only way we can reach the goals that we have”.
Of course there is no shortage of work to be done. Rookie wide receiver James Washington is still pretty raw in terms of his understanding of the position at the NFL level and in how he is being trusted within his usage in the offense. Ryan Switzer is also young and still new to the team.
“When I get happy, then that’s a problem, because I’m always going to want to find something that we can get better at”, Drake added. So basically, he’s never happy. And frankly that seems to be a trait shared by many great coaches. Mann never seemed to be happy. John Mitchell was never happy with his defensive line.
Perhaps ‘content’ is a better word than ‘happy’, but the point stands. That is the mindset with which Drake has approached his task of keeping one of the league’s top groups of wide receivers competitive. It is working, but it will always be a process.