With the Pittsburgh Steelers 2020 training camp now fully underway, several position coaches are beginning to have sessions with the media. On Monday, new Steelers wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard had his first media session of training camp and during his question and answer session he talked quite a bit about the team’s rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool, this year’s second-round draft pick out of Notre Dame.
First, Hilliard was asked what it was that the Steelers liked about Claypool that led to the team wanting to draft him.
“You can’t teach 6’4″, 238, 4.41 electric [40-yard-dash] time,” Hilliard said of Claypool. “It’s just something that doesn’t fall off of a tree. And you get a chance to harness that kind of talent and kind of shape it and mold it into something that could be really, really special. I think as an organization we all saw that, and he can do so much for the football team and affect the football team in a positive manner outside of playing receiver. And we love that. We’re going to love his physicality, his play-making and his speed.”
While Claypool should be able to cut his teeth immediately with the Steelers as a player on special teams, Hilliard was essentially asked on Monday if the Notre Dame product will be able to get up-to-speed quick enough to help on offense right out of the chute. Specifically, Hilliard was asked if he expects Claypool to catch up quickly due to him not having offseason practices and if he is on schedule right now.
“I’m not worried about anything and last year opened my eyes more than anything else,” Hilliard said. “When you put the time in and you put the work in and you are put in position to make plays and you make plays, it doesn’t matter when you were drafted. It doesn’t matter how long it took you to get on spot in terms of the organization or on campus, however you want to coin that term. If Chase does what we expect him to do, and that’s make plays early and often, Chase is going to play a lot. He’s going to be really good and that’s the we expect from a lot of those guys.
When speaking about learning from last year, Hilliard was referencing him coaching an extremely young receiving unit in Washington that included their team’s third-round selection in 2019, Terry McLaurin.
“I learned that about Terry McLaurin and young players whole heatedly last year,” Hilliard said. “Because the world expected him to be a special teams player and he ended up being our number one last year for the Washington Football Team. And we expect the same, if not more, from Chase, or any other young man who wants to step up and make plays.”
Hilliard did a remarkable job last season with that young group of wide receivers in Washington. In fact, last season there were just 11 rookie wide receivers that registered 30 or more receptions and 300 or more receiving yards and three of those players, McLaurin, Steven Sims, and Kelvin Harmon, did so under the tutelage of Hilliard. Dating back to 2000, only one other team, the 2014 Jacksonville Jaguars, had three rookie wide receivers catch 30 or more passes and have 300 or more receiving yards.
With Steelers third-year wide receiver James Washington starting off training camp on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, Claypool might be able to get a few extra practice snaps in with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. How quickly he can get on the same page with Roethlisberger while making sure he knows the offense will be key for him if he wants to see playing time as a wide receiver right out of the chute.
While I respect Hilliard’s optimism on Claypool on Monday, it sure seems like he’ll face a huge challenge trying to get Claypool a meaningful amount of offensive playing time in the first quarter of the regular season. Even so, the Steelers faced a similar situation last season with then-rookie wide receiver Diontae Johnson and he ultimately played a nice amount of offensive snaps right out of the chute and probably thanks mainly to free agent addition Donte Moncrief struggling to catch the football in the first two games.