Ryan Switzer has only played two NFL seasons. He has worked with three different wide receivers coaches on three different teams—not including Ray Sherman. Darryl Drake appears to have been the only one to really give him a chance. And in the wake of his passing, the third-year wide receiver is finding it hard to get back on the field without hearing his voice.
“It’s hard to get back to the game you love because he is not out there telling you what to do”, he told reporters earlier today via a video posted on the team’s website, the first of the wide receiver group to speak to the media since Drake passed away suddenly Sunday morning. “He was everywhere”, he said.
“He is not out there yelling. It’s hard. It’s part of our profession, it’s something we have to do. It’s something Coach Drake would want us to do. Quite frankly he would be pissed at me right now for taking it as hard as we are, but it is hard”.
While his reach was felt across the locker room—even new faces like inside linebacker Mark Barron have spoken to the effect that he has had—it’s understandable that the wide receiver room was hit the hardest, perhaps especially JuJu Smith-Schuster, by the tragedy. And their impact is twofold, both personally and professional.
Another thing to keep in mind is that this is a very young wide receiver room, overall. Of those players with an inside track to make the roster, Eli Rogers is the oldest at 26. Donte Moncrief also recently turned 26. Switzer himself is 24, while James Washington and Diontae Johnson are both 23, and Smith-Schuster is still just 22 until November. The oldest players in the entire group from top to bottom are Johnny Holton and Diontae Spencer at 27.
Because of that youth, it’s likely the case that this is the first, or among the first, deaths of an individual close to them that they have experienced. Switzer admitted this to be the case for himself, and Smith-Schuster’s reaction would seem to suggest it may be the case for him as well.
While Switzer said that Drake would probably be pissed about how hard he is taking it, I think he also would be proud of how the entire wide receiver room is coming together and uniting over the mutual loss. Unity is something that he preached to the entire locker room at the end of last season.
“I am figuring out it does bring people together”, he said. “I think it’s going to be a part of the Steelers story for 2019, 2020, as long as we keep Drake’s legacy alive, it will be a part of our story. You can’t get through it alone. It’s something as a receiver room we have been preaching. We are trying to stay together. If each one of us can just be a little bit strong then collectively as a group, we can be stronger together”.