POST PROLOGUE: TAKE A LISTEN TO THE STEELERS ROUNDTABLE SHOW FROM TRIBLIVE RADIO ON THURSDAY MORNING. MARK KABOLY, RALPH PAULK AND I LOOK BACK ON THE ABSURDITY OF EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENED IN CINCINNATI LAST WEEK AS WELL AS LOOK AHEAD TO THE GAME AGAINST THE BRONCOS SUNDAY IN DENVER. THINGS GET HEATED WHEN I CALL MARK A, “YINZER EXTRAORDINAIRE.” CHECK IT OUT.
The Steelers use a mid-round draft choice on a receiver from a Southern school that is big on pure talent, a 210-plus pound specimen with 4.4 speed. They sit him initially for games, in part because of a (real or perceived) glut at the position, while the confident young man titillates in practice and patiently awaits an opportunity. When the chance finally comes, this receiver explodes onto the scene and becomes an instant phenomenon.
Martavis Bryant? That is SO last year. Could the 2015-16 version of Bryant be Sammie Coates?
OK, OK, so of course there’s no way Coates will match Bryant’s rookie season, when he was deactivated for the first six games but ended up with 10 touchdowns in the 11 games (including playoffs) he appeared in after finally “earning a hat.” Coates might only get one game, and he won’t have the role Bryant did. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the potential to make an impact.
Coates, an Auburn alum picked in the third round in May (Bryant went in the 2014 fourth round from Clemson), was deactivated for the final six regular-season games plus last week’s postseason opener. Although he did dress for six games in an eight-week stretch earlier this season, that was partially attributable to a suspension and an injury to Bryant. Coates had one catch in that time, playing only 34 snaps.
But now with Antonio Brown going through concussion protocol, the NFL All Pro and team MVP has been ruled out to play Sunday in Denver. That creates a domino effect: Markus Wheaton and Bryant step up a spot each, veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey moves from little-used No. 4 WR to a prominent role as a No. 3… and Coates becomes part of the offense.
Is he ready?
“Sammie can definitely play,” Bryant said. “He has been working hard all year on the scout team; he’s just waiting on an opportunity like I was last year. Once he gets that opportunity it’s up to him to take advantage of it, which I am pretty sure he will. With the way he practices and how he works, he can do the same as I did.”
Coates insists he knows all three wide receiver positions in the Steelers offense (and even, for the very rare occasions the Steelers have gone with a four-wideout package this season, the fourth spot). He said it’s a regular part of a practice week for him to rotate into the first-team offense.
“It’s just about me doing the right routes and running at the right gaps and stuff like that,” said Coates, who showed his big-game, big-play prowess with 206 yards and two touchdowns against rival Alabama last season. “The little things that I learned throughout the season.
“I just take (advice) from Coach T and give it all every day at practice because you never know when your opportunity can come so you need to be ready for it.”
Coates’ teammates are saying they’re confidant he’s ready.
“He’s definitely come a long way,” said rookie Tyler Murphy, ostensibly the Steelers No. 5 WR who’s on the practice squad now. “He’s gotten much better since camp – and he was already a great receiver when he got here, but he pushed himself to get that much better.”
“If you’re a wide receiver in our room, you’re always prepared,” Heyward-Bey said. “Coach (Richard) Mann does a good job preparing us. We’re all always hard on the rookies. He comes to work ready to go. If he has to play, he’ll be good.”