PITTSBURGH (TNS) – Sammie Coates has made all types of catches since the Pittsburgh Steelers put on the pads and started doing something other than running around in shorts. He has made two-handed catches above his helmet, one-handed sideline grabs around a defender, even laid out his 6-foot-2, 215-pound frame to catch a deep ball in the end zone.
Flashing such brilliance in the first full week of training camp might come as a surprise to those who said he had poor hands at Auburn, where he dropped one out of every five passes. But it doesn’t to Coates, and it doesn’t to the Steelers.
“You’re going to have some knocks on you,” Coates said. “The offense I was in, you didn’t get a lot of targets, so if I dropped one it was like the end of the world.”
Coates, a third-round draft choice in 2015, will have to have some unwordly performances to make up for the loss of Martavis Bryant, who has been suspended for the 2016 season. But, if one week is any indication, he has shown the ability to be a game-changing receiver with his size, strength and speed. And, believe it or not, hands.
But what has really impressed the Steelers is that Coates came to camp ready to perform, ready to make a splash. It indicates to them a commitment to his team and a dedication to his profession, something that might not be able to be said about the receiver he’s replacing.
“It’s very important, not only for his confidence, but for the confidence of the quarterback, the confidence of the staff, the confidence of the players, because we’re missing a piece that was a playmaker,” said offensive coordinator Todd Haley. “I do think some of the flash plays were critical. The plays he’s made, some of those combat catches are just exactly what you want to see.”
Coates has done that with great frequency at Saint Vincent College. Now the next step will be to do that in games, starting with the preseason opener Friday night against the Detroit Lions at Heinz Field.
Coaches talk all the time about watching the progress players make from their rookie season to year two. Coates has already given them an eyeful.
“I was once in that position,” said cornerback William Gay. “In that situation, you can’t worry about what people think. You got to come in confident and ready to go and, when called upon, you got to answer the bell.”
As a rookie, Coates didn’t get many chances. He appeared in just six regular-season games and caught only one pass for 11 yards. When Antonio Brown was unable to play because of a concussion in the divisional playoff game in Denver, Coates gave a small glimpse of his play-making ability, catching two passes for 61 yards.
That will change this year.
“The biggest thing about Sammie is he has tremendous physical ability,” cornerback Ross Cockrell said. “Now, what we’re seeing is taking that physical ability and kind of harnessing it, controlling and learning when to come in and out of breaks and when to put it on when he goes deep.”
Then Cockrell added: “He has strong hands. He’s demonstrated that throughout camp. He’s going to have to make those contested catches being such a big guy.”
Haley said Coates has been able to do that because he has come to training camp in great physical condition. Not that anyone would look at Coates’ physique and think he wasn’t in tremendous condition. Haley, though, was referring to Coates being in football shape and not getting tired on the field. When players get tired, Haley said, they are unable to run the plays the way they are to be executed.
Coates said he wanted to be sure that didn’t happen.
“I wanted to come in and be ready to play,” Coates said. “You can’t come in half way. I came in ready with the attitude like, I’m coming in to help the team win. That’s the attitude I have this year.”
The Steelers have noticed.