Mike Tomlin Explains Steelers’ Attraction To New WR Justin Hunter

Even though he was the first of the four outside free agents signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers so far this offseason, new wide receiver Justin Hunter appears to be the one that is talked about the least. With that said, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin did talk about the team’s newest pass catcher during the Tuesday morning AFC coaches breakfast and what it was that attracted the team to him.

“He’s big and fast,” Tomlin said of Hunter, according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He’s been a consistent big-play maker, not only since he’s been in the league, but in college. I was at his pro day when he came out of the University of Tennessee. He’s a Virginia Beach-area guy like I am. I’ve known about him for some time. Those type of attributes are attractive to us.”

As you can see and as I pointed out right after the Steelers signed Hunter, it isn’t hard to understand why Hunter is now a Steeler. First, Tomlin always seems to keep close tabs on players who are from or played near his hometown of Hampton, Va. Second, Tomlin and Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley both attended Hunter’s 2013 pro day. Third, while Hunter’s overall play on the field certainly can’t be compared to what fellow Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant has put on tape so far during his young career, his stats and combine measurables certainly do match up outside of total games played and total targets.

You can frame Hunter’s addition however you want. He can be considered insurance for the previous troubled Bryant, insurance for the seemingly slow developing and banged-up Sammie Coates, or just a body signed to replace former Steelers wide receiver Markus Wheaton, who signed a two-year free agent contract with the Chicago Bears a few weeks ago.

In the past, players who signed free agent contracts with the Steelers early on in the offseason are usually considered locks to ultimately make the team’s final 53-man roster out of training camp. However, when it comes to Hunter this year, it would probably be foolish to bet the farm on him achieving that goal. In fact, the Steelers currently only have $30,000 invested in Hunter as that was the meager signing bonus he was given as part of the one-year, $855,000 contract that he signed. Another $50,000 awaits Hunter should he ultimately make the final 53-man roster out of training camp along with a $775,000 base salary.

Hunters primary competition during training camp figures to be the third-year Coates and veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey. Both, however, have decent special teams resumes which is something Hunter can’t currently claim. As for Coates, specifically, it doesn’t sound like Tomlin is ready to give up on him as a pass catching weapon after he fell off the map last season thanks to finger injuries he suffered in the team’s Week 5 game against the New York Jets.

“I expect him to take another leap,” Tomlin said of Coates, according to Dulac. “I think he took a significant leap from Year No. 1 to Year No. 2, one that we expect. He faced some adversity throughout the journey with injuries and so forth. I expect him to continue to grow, evolve and come with the level of preparedness that he had last year. And hopefully, with the level of improvement he had last year.”

More than anything else, Hunter should provide some decent competition for Coates and Heyward-Bey during training camp and it sounds like Tomlin is looking forward to those battles.

“I’m excited about watching those guys sort themselves out,” Tomlin said. “We’re not short of candidates and capable men. That’s a great place to start.”

  • Jim Foles

    For Hunter a good Qb could be the ticket.

  • PaeperCup

    What is the likelihood of trading someone like Coates before the draft?…or after.

  • harding36

    Interesting question. I can’t remember the Steelers ever trading one of their players during the draft

  • Brian Miller

    All it takes is a Godwin or a Taywan Taylor draft pick to see his cut coming a mile away, but at least he is insurance!

  • Josh Gustad

    There is zero market for Sammie Coates. I’d be shocked if anyone gave a 6th for him.

  • PaeperCup

    well that’s bleak.

  • RickM

    They would never trade Coates. Giving a receiver a broken finger or two is like giving a kicker a pulled hamstring. They can’t do their job effectively. How the effect of the injury is not understood is beyond me.

  • PaeperCup

    Do you think the injury is the only thing that would keep him off the 53? If he ends up on the practice squad, I don’t think it would too long until another team shows interest.

  • Jason

    What would you hope to land for him? He has very little value.

  • PaeperCup

    There has to be some value. If Justin plays well, there could be a chance that Sammie Coates ends up on the outside and on the practice squad. In that case I can only imagine there being some interest in him, and perhaps the team can beat them to the punch and get something for him. I really don’t know what someone would be willing to give for him…all I know is that the position is going to be crowded if Bryant is back.

  • RickM

    I think he makes the 53 in his sleep if his hands are O.K. We had a guy with virually no snaps in 2015. And he accumated over 400 yards and 19 catches in 5 games. And the best thing was he was getting better with each game with 12 catches for 218 yards in Games 4&5. And then of course the lacerated and fractured finger(s) happened.

    If he’s not fully recovered come training camp, then we definitely have a problem. But I assume that he will be. Yes, if he ever appears on the PS he would be gone immediately. Deep threats like him are tough to find. He’ll drop some balls, but his speed is dangerous, and he was showing more diverse routes before the injury occurred.

  • Robert E Lil

    I still cannot look at Tomlins teams and identify how the coach has left his thumbprint on the Steelers

  • ryan72384

    IF IF IF Bryant gets reinstated every other reciever is irrelevant in my opinion. Couldn’t care less what Coates or Green or Hunter do lol. AB on one side and Bryant on the other with Bell coming out of the backfield. Thats all we need. Scary. A legitimate superstar number 1 reciever one on side and a potential super star electrifying motivated number 1 reciever on the other side. If Coates, Hunter or Green contributed at all it would almost be unfair. But then of course there is always the dreaded redzone to slow us down.. sigh

  • Conserv_58

    Well, it’s Tuesday and we haven’t heard a word from the fascist dictator, Goodell regarding Martavis’ reinstatement. I wish I could be able to be at the draft just so that I could boo him, mercilessly.

  • Steve Johnson

    Coates and DHB is exactly who they are and will be. Two One Trick Ponies; just like Tomlin, waisting time on guys that will never be more than what they are. I would take DHB over Coates.

  • Steve Johnson

    With all the talent in the draft, a team would have 2b foolish to trade for Coates. But then again, you do have owners like Dan Synder, you never know. If someone did, can’t see giving up more than a 5th or 6th Rd pick.

  • Alan Tman

    I liked this guy at Tennessee, and wanted the Steelers to draft him. He went 33 or 34, but this will show people how much the right situation means to receivers. They rely on the line, and QB plus if the defense respects the run game. It’s pick your poison for defenses this year. We should trade some receivers and get an extra draft pick or two.

  • Steve Johnson

    He wasn’t that great to begin with. You make it seem he was the 2nd coming of Martavis Bryant. The guy had one route, and if the ball wasn’t perfectly thrown to him, he isn’t jumping and fighting for it. I recall when they played Cinncy, Pacific Man Jones jumped and out fought him for the ball.

  • Dan

    Tomlin loves his VA guys. This was a no-risk signing, so either he makes it or he doesn’t, and life goes on.

  • Alan Tman

    Coates, Hamilton, and Rogers. Some combination plus maybe another player to get a couple draft picks. Usually the Steelers have 30 to 40 names on their draft board. They will probably have at least 65 on it this year, because this is probably the best draft in years.

  • ryan peace

    I think Holmes was traded to the Jets during the draft

  • falconsaftey43

    Yeah Coates is a real waste of time, just 400 yards in the 5 games he was healthy for, nbd. Broken fingers clearly have no effect on a WRs ability.

  • falconsaftey43

    What does this even mean? The entire team is his. New OC, DC, OL coach, RB coach, DB coach, OLB coach, ST coach, QB coach, WR coach, and every player outside of Ben, Gay, Harrison, and Warren.

  • An ever better question…what is the possibility they’ll offer M Bryant as trade bait–if he’s reinstated before the draft? I pose this in case they’ve really soured on his character for multiple reasons [literally] but are keep quiet to keep their intentions under the radar.

  • falconsaftey43

    Eh, I think they keep him because he’s such a huge boost to the offense, unless they could get like a 2nd round pick, but that seems unlikely.

  • Josh Gustad

    I would take a 5th for Coates faster than the Jaguars took a 6th for Scobee lol

  • Robert E Lil

    He was hired as a defense guy..who led the run stuffing D of the Vikings. He never brought his signature…whatever that might be…to pittsburgh. Something that said – that’s what makes a Tomlin team. Instead…he’s just a coach (at best) – a cheerleader at worst

  • joe triplehorns

    He doesn’t need to leave his thumbprint on the team. All Tomlin has to do is manage the team. Steelers have used the same core values for over forty years. Sure there are different star players ; difference of defense or offense dominance ; and different coaches. But Steelers have used the same logic finding players and building teams for decades. Tomlin is smart, he isn’t changing what works. He has done nothing but win year in and year out. He lets his coaches coach. In his bad seasons he goes 8-8. Remarkable!!! He hasn’t had a losing season. Look up the coaches that have 10 years without a losing season and see what company Tomlin is in with. It has been my experience talking to NFL fans that they are racist against Tomlin…bottom line.

  • Robert E Lil

    I really disagree with that.
    If Cowher (and I use him only as an example not because I’m a big fan) were talked out of retirement today here’s what you’d expect: you’d be getting a team that plays very physical especially at the line of scrimmage, sound fundamentals and great tackling- and a ground control offense. Not sayn all that is good but-that would be his thumbprint. Tomlin? Not much there. And yes…he’s had a franchise qb every year

  • falconsaftey43

    He came to a team with a top 5 defense and HoF DC, would have been follish for him to try to “put his stamp” on that defense just to change it. He’s completely turned over the staff and roster and got the team back ro the AFCCG. His “stamp” is being a very good team that wins.

  • Rocksolid20

    At least he was at the game , dressed and on the field . Can’t say the same for Bryant .

  • Robert E Lil

    Ok. I disagree. I always hear from coaches that the team needs to have an “identity “. I believe had Tomlin believed in hat he would have more success

  • RickM

    I think he caught about 5 deep balls in his 19 early catches. He definitely has to work on his route tree, but I just don’t share your jaded attitude. You’re just dismissing his early success and important injury so you can be as negative as possible about a guy starting his NFL career. I seldom make excuses for players, but even I realize in this case there were confirmed, extenuating circumstances.

  • Weaser3655

    Brown, Rogers, bryant(if clean), Hey-bey, hunter. Coates if they carry six, which i doubt. Coates has had a chance

  • Jason Vancil

    Tomlin vouches for those Va Beach guys like a true Mafia Don.

  • Steeler-Drew

    Lol, I’m sure someone will be booing for you. It might loudest chorus of boos ever heard at draft when he walks up with the first pick.

  • Ryan Alderman

    Heyward-Bey’s usefulness on our roster has expired. Has Coates fixed the issue which plagued him last season? Amazes me some think it’d be a wasted pick going WR in the top three. Stud TE would be my preference.

  • Ryan Alderman

    Depends.

  • Ryan Alderman

    Yep.

  • joe triplehorns

    Ok I conquer with you that Cowher’s Steelers played more physical. But Tomlin Just began to have physical full contact regular season practices 2016. I think he saw it worked for Cowher or Rooney mentioned Cowher used this. As for the missed tackles they already made improvements by letting Jarvis Jones walk. Every season on every team improvements have to be made. And Cowher was the sh-t dude. Huge fan here! Maybe Tomlins Thumbprint is speed. Fastest D in a long time.

  • LucasY59

    I think a guy like Cobi Hamilton has almost no shot of making the roster, but will get scooped up quickly after cuts and make the team somewhere else,

    I think they will hold onto him through camp, but they could trade if another team has injuries, get a draft pick for the following yr or maybe a CB or ILB? (RB or TE are possiblities as well, depending on how things work out at those positions)

  • Ryan Alderman

    Disagree, had it working pretty good until the injury bug got him.

  • LucasY59

    they also contribute on STs which is important for a 4th or 5th WR

  • PaeperCup

    He’s pretty good at that one route though. Several of those contested catches probably fell on Ben under throwing him, but if he can learn to play jump ball he can be looked at as a big asset.

  • Ryan Alderman

    People seem to forget the guy is still developing.

  • LucasY59

    its in Philadelphia so you know they will boo, but it is also outside probably because they know the BOOs will drown out him announcing the pick (if it was inside) which isnt a big deal since anyone with a brain knows it will be Garrett (wait do clowns have brains? …maybe the pick could actually be interesting)

  • PaeperCup

    Something to think about. He would net much higher than Coates that’s for sure. IMO he is worth a 2nd round pick. But that’s the same reasoning to keep the guy. Proven commodity vs the unknown. If they were to go that route, they’d likely have a plan to fill another position. They are not trading Bryant to select a WR with that exact draft pick.

    But it is evident that the FO, Tomlin included with his recent statements, seem to be really turned off of Bryant.

    Can Bryant be traded while not instated?

  • LucasY59

    doubt it is before the draft, during is a small possibillity, and after I hope it happens, they dont need 7-8 WRs, and even if they keep them through camp they should try and trade a guy like Hamilton sometime before they cut him and get nothing in return

  • joe triplehorns

    Dam auto correct

  • PaeperCup

    That’s my thoughts exactly. One of these guys will not make the team, and there will be someone that will consider signing them off our practice squad. Might as well get something out of it.

  • Phenix

    I agree playing with Ben can improve his game, I worry we are filling our roster with “down the field” straight line guys. Steelers need a balance with more possession receivers in 3rd down situations.

  • PaeperCup

    Big reason why I’m all in on drafting a pass catching TE.

  • joe triplehorns

    Been fun REL. Have a good night dude!

  • PaeperCup

    haha, Philly fans would boo the stage hands if given the chance.

  • Robert E Lil

    You too brotha!
    Plenty of yinzer sports happening next few weeks…so I’m staying entertained. Enjoy

  • PaeperCup

    And there is Hunter, now pushed to the outside looking in. Good point.

  • John Pennington

    If Coates didn’t get his hand taken care of he will lose his job and even if he did all the dropped passes could very well be his ticket out of Pittsburgh.He will have to earn his spot he can easily be beaten out by Hunter or Severin easily.Watch the tape on Severin and see who would rather have him or Coates or Hunter.

  • PaeperCup

    Don’t forget that DHB is solid on special teams.

  • LucasY59

    they wont trade Bryant, they will keep him as the only guy with legitimate success as a #2 WR

    the addition of Hunter in no way makes Martavis expendable (Justin hasnt done much in the league despite being a early 2nd rd pick, and there is a good chance of him failing to make the roster, despite the history of always keeping FAs they signed)

    at best Hunter is insurance in case one of the 4-5 guys ahead of him is hurt/unavailable (the suspension is the only thing that can keep Bryant off the team) Coates and DHB are also significant ST contributors so that gives them the edge over Justin, plus I think they are the better blocking WRs on the team as well which also gives them some value

  • LucasY59

    they have Rogers and Ayers (plus AB will have a lot more room to work if there are guys pulling coverage away from him on deep routes) and dont forget about Bell out of the backfield

  • LucasY59

    Outlaw could be a decent intermediate guy if there are already deep threats opening underneath stuff up for him (he and Grimble are enough IMO, and Green is an extra bonus IF he can play) lots of weapons, adding a early rd TE just makes it even harder for guys to get touches/spread it out to all of them

  • LucasY59

    and Veteran leadership (…since AB doesnt really fill that role very well, other than through leading by example with his work ethic)

  • gdeuce

    Bryant is pretty good in the redzone

  • gdeuce

    what coaches?

  • gdeuce

    Holmes was traded right before the draft

  • Steeler-Drew

    Yeah I didn’t want to offend any Steelers fans from Philly but they are still known for booing Santa Claus. Also didn’t know it was outside. I’m not sure Goodell would have agreed to have it in Philly if it was inside.

  • Alan Tman

    I would trade a couple of them, because there are some awesome receivers at the bottom of this draft like Robert Davis, Chad Williams, and some others.

  • Alan Tman

    They tackled a little better, but his receivers never got open, and they let receivers run free all the time. Especially when Darren Perry was here. Cowher’s teams couldn’t have been better than Tomlin’s if his record wasn’t as good.

  • Alan Tman

    Coates mangled his fingers, and tried to play through it. That’s no reason to bash the guy. He was averaging 41 yards a catch before that happened. Give the guy props for not going on IR , and getting them fixed like he should have.

  • gdeuce

    Coates did not have surgery to repair his fingers, he had surgery to repair his groin

  • Roger G

    Didn’t realize being from Virginia Beach was an “attribute”. Tomlin never met a Virginia (area) or Ohio St kid he didn’t like.

  • Ryan Alderman

    I think DHB is expendable.

  • Ryan Alderman

    Yes, sir.

  • Stay home mother Kelly Richards from New York City after resigning from her regular profession been able to average from $6000-$8000 per month from freelancing at home…I questioned her about how she discovered her tight lip secret. “Honestly, it is really a lot easier than you would imagine, all I did was sign up a basic form to get front line access to the Home Profit System. I purchased the instructional materials kit and within 30 days I was earning over $4,000 every 30 days. The instructional materials are pretty simple, I am not a computer whiz, but I can use the internet. I fill up forms and surf websites, I don’t even have to sell anything and no person has to purchase anything. It is as easy as being on facebook or twitter.” This is how she done it >> http://www­.­get­.­lc/qnJiB

  • falconsaftey43

    Exactly, I don’t know why people are SO down on Coates. He was really productive to start the year (hist first year of actual playing time). He wasn’t perfect or well rounded, but he was VERY productive and everyone knew he was a raw guy that needed time to develop. Then he busted his hands and couldn’t catch anymore, not sure how anyone can not think playing WR with a busted hand is a major hindrance. Let’s see what he does this year. He was on pace to have like the 5th most yards in the NFL before he broke his hand.

  • popsiclesticks

    If you know any athletes from Va Beach, you know that they have a fierce pride about their area. I’ve always thought it was a bit much but Hunter is more than just a Va Beach guy, IMO. He has shown actual big play ability.

  • Aj Gentile

    In that case you should still care about Hunter. AB one one side, Bryant on the other, and Hunter in the slot.

  • I agree re Tomlin’s recent comments and their implications. If Coates hadn’t broken his fingers and his development had continued its impressive arc, I think a reinstated Bryant would be on the trading block–definitely [think of the team’s actions re Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes].

  • If Bryant hadn’t been suspended twice by the NFL–once for a whole season–after reputedly having a history at Clemson of being given multiple ‘second chances’ after purported misdeeds, I’d LOVE having him as our #2 to compliment A.B. He’s definitely an exceptional talent. But at this point, I wouldn’t feel comfortably hanging my hopes for SB #7 on MB’s full-season participation–plus the team, especially Ben, has good reasons to not trust MB re his words or actions, so I wouldn’t be shocked if they traded him.

    Plus think about it if one of the top WRs fall to 30 [like Corey Davis, John Ross, or Mike Williams] and they’re offered a mid-second round pick for Bryant. As Alex rightly points out, someone always drops unexpectedly in every draft. Therefore, isn’t it likely that a very good edge rusher might still be snagged in mid-round two since this draft is so loaded with edge talents? If such were to happen, we could come away with Corey Davis, for example, on a four year rookie contract instead of Bryant and STILL draft a quality edge rusher like from among Rivers, Lawson, McKinley, Barnett, Willis, Williams, Watt, Harris, Anderson, or Bowser. [See what I mean? At least ONE of these will be available in the mid-second ].

  • Steeldog22

    None. Any discussion of trading Bryant is laughable. And I wouldn’t take a 2nd rounder for him.

  • Stout

    I don’t believe he’s eligible for practice squad anymore.

  • Steeldog22

    Because Tomlin’s public comments are a true indicator of his thoughts or the team’s intentions as to players. LOL. If there is anything we know of Tomlin it is not to put much stock in that hyperbole. “We are on the train, we don’t live in fear of the train, come on ride the train, Coates’ fingers and Green’s head are fine, Justin Gilbert is part of our plans, blah, blah, blah.”

  • PaeperCup

    Sammie? You might be right, has it been 3 years already? Well in that case, they’d cut him outright if he doesn’t make the team?

  • Stout

    Still a cheap contract and only 23. Have 2 years to find out.

  • RickM

    He also lives in the past sometimes too much in my opinion. He pays a lot of attention to how a guy looked 3-5 years ago in college. The NFL resume for the succeeding years is far more important than how a guy looked on his college Pro Day years ago, whether it’s Hunter, Justin Gilbert, whoever. Some guys college play just doesn’t translate to the pros well.

  • Steelerfan4lifeinAZ

    He has no added value..

  • Andrew

    Hoping is a weird word, but if there is a major injury in the preseason to a WR somewhere, we might be able to unload one of them.

  • will

    Or the Pats

  • will

    “Like” the 5th most yards……… does that mean 4th or 3rd or 6th??

  • LOL! Yep, you nailed it! Tomlin definitely follows in a respected line of ‘entertaining’ Steelers coaches–all for different reasons, of course. The thing is…in Noll we had “The Emperor,” in Cowher we had “The Jaw.” Can we have a Steelers Depot poll to coin a tag for Tomlin? I’d vote for “The Quip.” ;<))

  • I would…and I’ll tell you why [believe it or not, it’s not the drugs or suspensions]. It’s his ego and attitude as a teammate. By this I referred to his smugness after the Steelers lost to the Ravens in Baltimore last year–as revealed by his Snapchat comment as first reported by Alex Kozora.

    “People swore up and down that I wasn’t a big part. I guess they see now, huh?”

    To me it sounds as if he was smug the Steelers lost and were struggling ‘without him.’ Nice. In my opinion that kind of attitude is a locker room cancer just waiting to metastasize. Any guesses what his behavior/expectations will be come contract time IF he comes back and plays at a high level between now and then?

  • Jay Brenner

    Yep after we get an edge ,cb or s Id love a Te. The big kid out of Ashland like him a lot. But there’s a bunch of good one’s.

  • Phenix

    Good point about Rogers, HOPEFULLY he improves next year though. Bell is a good passing option, but I fear Ben digs the deep ball too much to properly utilize him as a receiver.

  • Steve Johnson

    Sure, except mediocrity, today’s Steelers.

  • Steve Johnson

    The Steelers WR’s have to be better and much more consistent to take the pressure off of Bell and Antonio Brown. That’s the main point I’m trying to make. One Trick Pony (inconsistent) WR’s isn’t going to cut it. Now the Steelers have three tall WR’s (in the same mold), Justin Hunter, Sammie Coates and DHB. Each year, most people come on this board and get really excited about how potent the Offense could be. Even #7 has ran his mouth on just how potent they can be (30pts a game). The Playoffs against Kansas City and N.E, too much inconsistency.

  • Steve Johnson

    Great Sarcasm. I’m fully aware of what Coates did earlier in the year. But the NFL is a “What Have You Done Lately” league. And Coates has done Nothing. How often does he fight for the ball? How would you grade his route running? What about his hands before the injury? Teams can easily game plan for the Steelers Offense, stop A.B. and LeVeon Bell, force everybody to beat them. Now, if I’m wrong, please reply.