Steelers notebook: Steelers drafted Coates as insurance because they knew about Bryant
August 30, 2015 9:28 PM
Rookie receiver Sammie Coates is no substitute for Martavis Bryant at this point, but the Steelers might need him early this season.
By Gerry Dulac / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In less than one half against the Buffalo Bills, Martavis Bryant showed why he is on a path to stardom in just his second season in the NFL.
But, with a four-game suspension to start the season looming for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, Bryant could also be on a path to becoming the next Josh Gordon — the talented but troubled receiver for the Cleveland Browns whose failed drug tests have now resulted in a one-year suspension.
And that’s what the Steelers are concerned about.
The Steelers were aware of Bryant’s failed drug tests and possibility of a four-game suspension at least as far back as the spring. That’s why they drafted wide receiver Sammie Coates in the third round in April, according to a team source — to have insurance in case Bryant had another violation.
Like Bryant, Coates is a physically gifted receiver who has size (6 feet 2, 212 pounds), speed (4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash), strength (23 reps in the 225-pound bench) and a 41-inch vertical jump. And he has shown flashes of that talent in the preseason with deep catches and an acrobatic sideline grab.
But coach Mike Tomlin said Coates needs to be in better football condition, something that has hindered his progress.
Tomlin criticized his young players for their lack of effort and failure to show any fight for a potential spot on the 53-man roster after Saturday’s embarrassing performance in Buffalo, referring to those violators as “walking dead.”
Tomlin did not single out any players, but he could have easily been referring to Coates, who did not have a catch against the Bills.
Bryant caught three passes for 138 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown, and also drew two pass-interference penalties against the Bills. But the most important number the Steelers have to worry about with Bryant is 10, which will be the number of games he would be suspended the next time he fails a drug test.
It is easy to dismiss what happened in Buffalo as a meaningless preseason game in which three defensive starters — Lawrence Timmons, Mike Mitchell and Stephon Tuitt — did not play.
But when four quarterbacks combine to complete 30 of 33 passes for 395 yards and three touchdowns, and the first-team defense allows a 41-yard run and 67-yard touchdown pass, “it gets your attention,” Timmons said.
“We’re trying some new things out there, trying to learn our defense’s personality. It’s what I call growing pains. We’ll get better.”
Timmons has not played since injuring his big toe in the final practice before the second preseason game at Jacksonville. The Steelers are trying to be cautious with his injury and he is expected back for the season opener at New England, but until that happens, they are playing without their most experienced starter on defense.
“We don’t want to be anything like that,” Timmons said after watching the Bills roll up 542 yards and 27 first downs, even though it was against most of the reserves for three quarters. “We’re still an unfinished product trying to get better.”
Curiously, one of the areas the Steelers have tried to improve — and which the Bills exploited — is deep pass coverage. They were in cover-2 zone, something they’ve practiced in training camp, when tight end Charles Clay split safeties Will Allen and Shamarko Thomas for a 67-yard touchdown on the second series.
“It’s not discouraging because it’s the preseason, but it gives us a barometer that we’ve got a lot to work on,” said Allen, who started for Mitchell (ankle).
Punter Jordan Berry did more than enhance his chances in his battle with incumbent Brad Wing by averaging 58.3 yards on four punts, including two field-flipping punts of 66 and 78 yards.
He also showed Tomlin he can handle kickoff duties — something he had never done — when Garrett Hartley injured his right hamstring in the second quarter.
“He had some opportunity to show some versatility there,” Tomlin said. “Good work on his part.”
Hartley is expected to miss several weeks and the Steelers will have to sign a new kicker. It is possible it will come from one of the two kickers who lost a tryout with Hartley when Shaun Suisham was injured in the preseason opener — Jay Feely and Alex Henery.
Gerry Dulac: email@example.com and Twitter @gerrydulac.
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