The Pittsburgh Steelers are now in Latrobe at Saint Vincent College, where they have held their training camp sessions since 1966. While the vast majority of the legwork of building the 90-man roster is done, there is always some fine tinkering to do. Now it’s time to figure out who is worthy of a roster spot, and what their role will be.
The team made some bold moves this offseason and in some areas of the roster look quite a bit different than they did a year ago. That would especially be the case at wide receiver and inside linebacker, where they’re bound to have new starters.
How will those position groups sort themselves out? How will the young players advance into their expected roles? Will the new coaches be up to the task? Who is looking good in practice? Who is sitting out due to injury?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: Who is going to coach the wide receivers?
This is in no way intended to come off as crass. The Steelers’ wide receivers coach, Darryl Drake, passed away only a day ago, leaving a hole in the hearts of those who knew him, and that includes his fellow coaches and those he coached, even if only for a short while in Pittsburgh.
The fact that question of who must replace him as a coach on this staff should serve only as a testament to both the importance of his role and the quality with which he performed it. But either way, it is the biggest practical question immediately staring the Steelers in the face right now: who is going to coach the wide receivers?
The Steelers do have one coach on-staff who has already served as wide receivers coach. That would be Randy Fichtner. But he is already the offensive coordinator while retaining his long-held duties as the quarterbacks coach as well. He’s not a practical option.
Tom Bradley had a brief history of coaching the wide receivers at Penn State in 1983 and 1984 before he moved on to other roles in the team. While Teryl Austin being brought in, and by some accounts, seemingly running the show, could this be entertained?
Perhaps one of the coaching assistants, such as Matt Symmes, who seems to primarily work with the quarterbacks, could shoulder at least some of the load. Perhaps Hines Ward, who has served as a coaching intern in the past, could come in as an assistant. Even Darrius Heyward-Bey.
The ideal option, to me, and perhaps to many others, would be to coax Richard Mann out of retirement for one more year. Mann, 72, retired after the 2017 season after serving five seasons in Pittsburgh and was as beloved as Drake by the players and staff alike. His would be the smoothest transition, given the familiarity, even if he has only worked with two of the receivers on the roster in the past.
I love this picture of Drake, by the way. You just know he was telling some kind of story as a way of teaching some fundamental about football when this was taken.