By this time of the offseason, everybody on every team should pretty much know one another. This is an offseason unlike any other, of course. Hardly any rookies have even met their coaching staff face to face yet, and those who did, that happened at the Combine, or at the few Pro Days that happened, or at a Senior Bowl-like event.
While it sounds like players reporting to team facilities could be on the horizon in the next few weeks, they are still not allowed—nor at coaches—as of today, and that means, for example, that none of the wide receivers have yet met Ike Hilliard for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who is their new wide receivers coach.
Hired this offseason after having spent several years in the same role in Washington, Hilliard succeeds Ray Sherman, who served as wide receivers coach in an interim capacity in 2019 following the sudden passing of Darryl Drake in training camp.
The fourth different wide receivers coach in as many years, Hilliard is the one they’re hoping will be around for some time, to offer some stability to what is currently a very young group, with all of the top players in the room being 23 or younger.
“I haven’t gotten the chance to work with him in person”, Johnson admitted in speaking about Hilliard. “From what I have been learning from him through the meetings and Zoom calls he seems like a pretty good guy. Laid back. He knows what he’s talking about. He is giving me different pointers about being a receiver, just trying to better my game”.
That, unfortunately, isn’t much to go on. Of course they’ve interacted virtually, in the context of meetings and things like that, but there is a different relationship when it comes to working with somebody face-to-face, especially when it involves a physical instructive capacity.
There is only so much that you can teach a player about the nuance of route-running, for example, over the internet, without being able to get him on the grass and break down his process. And there’s only so much an instructor can know about a student, or a student can know about an instructor, without the most fundamental part of the instruction being included in the equation.
Hopefully soon we’ll be able to hear stories of players’ first interactions with their coaches. Even then I’m sure things will still be very different from what they would normally be due to social distancing demands and things of that nature. But it will be a lot closer to normal, and that will feel very good.