One of the most important things that some may not understand, or fail to think about, is that an NFL coaching staff is a complete unit whose parts routinely interact with one another. The tight ends coach, for example, is not just sequestered with his tights ends all season, having nothing else to do. The positions interrelate with one another, so they must know the other groups as well.
That might be especially the case when it comes to the wide receivers and the quarterbacks, the two positions who may share the most intimate relationship in the game, as the pass thrower and the pass catcher, in an era of the game in which it has become common to see players record over 100 receptions in a single season.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are fortunate to have one of the most veteran quarterbacks in the NFL in Ben Roethlisberger, and while his quarterbacks coach, Matt Canada, is new, he has a very long history with Randy Fichtner, who is entering his third season as offensive coordinator, and his first in about a decade not as quarterbacks coach.
But the wide receivers coach is another ball game, where Ike Hilliard was brought in this offseason to take over a group that is very young, with all of the prominent players under 25 years old. In fact, Amara Darboh, 26, is the only wide receiver on the team who is over 25 years old.
The bulk of these players, outside of JuJu Smith-Schuster, and arguably Ryan Switzer, have not gotten the opportunity to build up much of a working relationship with Ben Roethlisberger yet, since he missed most of last season. Hilliard, too, is new, and this offseason hasn’t allowed for that interpersonal reaction.
Talking to reporters on Monday for his first media availability session since his hiring early in the offseason, the new wide receivers coach said that “there is never going to be enough time for me to spend with the quarterback and trying to pick his brain in regard to what he likes and what he wants”, via a transcript from the team’s media department.
Players like James Washington and Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool, as well as Darboh, Deon Cain, and Saeed Blacknail, have a limited to non-existent working relationship with Roethlisberger at this point in their careers, but some of them, namely the top end, will be integral to the team’s success—as is their relationship with the quarterback.
It is the wide receivers coach’s job to try to funnel his knowledge of the quarterback to his group and facilitate their building a rhythm and getting on the same page, “making sure the young men are where they are supposed to be when he is ready to throw the football”, Hilliard said.
“I am looking forward to spending a bunch of time with the quarterback and hopefully we can all get it accelerated in where it needs to be so we can be the best offense in the league”, he added. They arguably have the talent to be the best. Can they have the chemistry? Part of that tasks falls at the feet of their newest members of the coaching staff.