Leading up to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ regular season opener against the New England Patriots, Steelers beat writer Ed Bouchette relayed in one of his chats that he was given the impression that it was rookie undrafted free agent Tyler Murphy, and not Sammie Coates, the third-round draft pick, who would serve as the number four wide receiver.
Bouchette’s intelligence proved to be on the spot, as Coates found himself without a helmet on Thursday night, affirming that he is, in fact, fifth on the wide receiver depth chart behind a player who spent his collegiate career throwing passes rather than receiving them.
While there is a certainly level of awareness with Coates that his development as a contributing wide receiver will take some time, as was the case last season with Martavis Bryant, the fact remains that the player ahead of him on the depth chart was not even a wide receiver, and in fact split time between quarterback and wide receiver during much of the offseason.
Be that as it may, we do have now a pretty good impression of how Coates’ rookie season might unfold, and the indications certainly point toward him receiving little playing time, and certainly none with any degree of consistency. In other words, he will not be given a role, as Bryant was the year before him, barring unforeseen circumstances.
Perhaps Coates finds himself in a two dogs, one bone scenario, in which he and Murphy are competing on a weekly basis—at least for these first four weeks of the season—to earn the helmet on game day, which is a tactic that has been used with positive results in the recent past for the Steelers.
Of course, when Bryant returns from suspension after the first four weeks, the Steelers will not be cutting Coates to make room for his return on the roster. The odds are that Murphy will be waived and placed on the practice squad at that point, given that he is not a notable contributor on special teams.
But it certainly gives some insight into how the rest of the third-round pick’s rookie season might unfold once Bryant returns. He is already ostensibly fifth on the depth chart, a position that will be cemented with the second-year receiver coming back onto the field.
In order for Coates to play, the Steelers would have to activate five wide receivers, which is certainly not an unlikely scenario. The team frequently had five active on game days, though the makeup of the team was naturally different that it is for this squad in 2015.
While the fact that Coates was inactive for the first game of his career—and the fact that that came at the expense of a player who was until recently a quarterback—does not speak to his rapid development, it should not be seen as a disappointment.
Nor should it be cause for concern. If it is anything, it is a demonstration on the part of the coaching staff that they are willing to be patient with him rather than forcing him into action. After the results—on the field, at least—that last year’s strategy with Bryant yielded, it would be hard to blame them.