The Pittsburgh Steelers are an organization that values stability more than most, to the chagrin of some in the fanbase who believe their dedication to that principle has cost them. Nevertheless, there has been more turnover on the coaching staff in recent years than has been the norm.
This year, one of the new coaches is Ike Hilliard, signed to be their new wide receivers coach, though this of course was a move forced upon them through tragedy, when previous wide receivers coach Darryl Drake passed away unexpectedly in August.
A former wide receiver for the Giants, Hilliard spent a number of years in Washington before the regime change made him available to the Steelers this offseason, and one presumes that Mike Tomlin intends to have him on board for years to come.
He hasn’t had the opportunity to work with many yet, but the Steelers did open their virtual rookie minicamp yesterday, so rookie second-round pick Chase Claypool just got in his first instructional work with the team’s new wide receivers coach.
Speaking to reporters after the minicamp session, he said of Hilliard, “he seems like he really knows what he’s talking about. Obviously, he’s been in the game for a long time, been around the game for a long time, so he’s able to teach you things and make it easy to learn, rather than just saying things verbatim based on what he heard. He kind of says it in his own words”.
Hilliard has been a wide receivers coach in the NFL since 2012, almost all of that time in Washington, with one year working with the Buffalo Bills. He also served as assistant wide receivers coach with the Miami Dolphins in 2011 after breaking into coaching in the defunct UFL in 2009-2010. He last played in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2008, so it was a quick pivot into the coaching ranks.
He comes off a season in Washington in which he managed to get a good amount of productivity out of rookie wide receivers, including Terry McLaurin, who finished the year with 58 receptions for 919 yards and seven touchdowns, in a season in which the team faced quarterback instability between Case Keenum and rookie Dwayne Haskins. Colt McCoy even started a game.
The Steelers have Claypool as a rookie, but their wide receiver room in general is young. Even JuJu Smith-Schuster, going into his fourth season, is still 23, as are James Washington and Diontae Johnson. At this point, the 25-year-old Switzer is the old man.
One can hope that Hilliard’s recent success working with young wide receivers will prove to be an asset for the Steelers. So far, so good as far as first impressions go with Claypool—though in fairness, I can’t recall a rookie ever saying something negative about his first encounter with his position coach.