The Pittsburgh Steelers are just starting to get back to business—but certainly not business as usual—since the passing of wide receivers coach Darryl Drake. Though he was entering just his second season with the organization, he had already made a tremendous impact on those he coached, and in the locker room generally.
Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva tends to be among the most thoughtful voices on the team, so it’s no surprise that reporters sought him for comment earlier today during practice, and he spoke for several minutes about the loss of Drake and how that has impacted the team.
“From the first time he came, he’s been very upfront. He just walked in; he didn’t have to do any introductions from last year”, Villanueva said of the wide receivers coach. He had an impact on a number of players, including, he said, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Drake “started opening up his mind, being a very outspoken leader about the things that he thought had to be said”, Villanueva told reporters. “People respected that. People respond to that. So when you have somebody that has got such a genuine personality, everybody sort of becomes very attracted to him. it was very obvious, especially in the offense…Ben had a very close relationship with him”.
He went down the list of how Drake had an individual relationship with every group on the offense, but also had connections with the defense as well, which is somewhat remarkable given the relatively short tenure he has had with the organization, just about a year and a half into his term.
“I know not many people have changed Ben”, the left tackle said, but Drake was one of them. “He has probably had the biggest impact relating to players, the love for the game, the everyday enthusiasm, the jokes. A lot of players were looking forward to that stability and energy and now won’t have it so it’s pretty tough”.
We on the outside have only gotten flashes of the sort of interactions he has had with players and coaches, but from what we’ve seen, it has been obvious the sort of interpersonal impacts he has had throughout the organization, whether it’s simply going out of his way to stop a fresh rookie in his tracks to say hi, as he did with Justin Layne soon after the draft.
Quite clearly, the Steelers have lost much more than just a wide receivers coach. Nobody is going to simply come in and fill his shoes. As Mike Tomlin said of him yesterday, he wore many hats, which he did voluntary, and some of which had nothing to do with football.
But he has left his impact on this roster, whether it was on Roethlisberger or the wide receivers, on Tomlin, the rest of the coaching staff—Eddie Faulkner talked about how he was a big help in transitioning into the NFL this year—and they will carry that influence forward, not just into the 2019 season but for the remainder of their lives.