One of the main reasons, I would gather, that Pittsburgh Steelers fans were excited about the possibility of one of their former wide receivers—arguably their most beloved—in Hines Ward taking over as wide receivers coach for the retired Richard Mann was due to the belief that the former Super Bowl MVP would do well in instilling a physical mentality into his players.
The team at this time elected not to go with Ward, who does not have any formal coaching experience in his history, though he served as a coaching intern with the Steelers a year ago and it is something that he wants to do.
No, instead, they hired the man who helped to instill that physical mentality into him. And that man has been instilling a physical mentality in his wide receivers in the NFL for over a decade, first with the Chicago Bears, where he coached Brandon Marshall, and then with the Arizona Cardinals, heading out the twilight of Larry Fitzgerald’s career.
While their size necessarily helps them, Marshall and Fitzgerald are easily two of the best blocking wide receivers of recent generations, by a good margin. They are up there with Ward, even if they might not have had a rule coined for their play in that area as the latter did.
Marshall and Drake only overlapped for one season in 2012, the former’s first in Chicago and the last for the latter, but that was a critical point in Marshall’s life as he struggled to come to grips with certain problems that he suffers from.
The wide receiver called up Drake soon after arriving and essentially asked to be coached hard, that he needed it. “I haven’t had a good coach as far as that receiving position since I’ve been in the NFL”, he said in a summer interview that year. He went on to have his best season to date, catching career highs in 118 passes for 1508 yards and 11 touchdowns. Part of that was helping him consistently high-point the football.
Fitzgerald’s late-season renaissance has not exactly gone unnoticed around the NFL, either. Particularly over the last three seasons, the future Hall of Famer has come up with 325 receptions for 3394 yards and 21 touchdowns. He told the team’s website the Drake’s informal motto for his group is “make the plays you’re supposed to make, and make a few that nobody else can make”. Sounds a lot like Antonio Brown.
But it hasn’t been just the stars. Drake has been credited with improving the overall physicality of the Cardinals’ entire wide receiving group. For the 2015 season, Pro Football Focus even designated him the wide receivers coach of the year, noting that the group finished as the second-best as run-blockers in the league. General Manager Steve Keim once noted that Drake helped, among others, J.J. Nelson “become more physical”.
Ward was an exciting name, but Drake should be too. It’s just that for most of us, we don’t know his name that well just yet. But we have seen his handiwork over the years in the likes of Marshall and Fitzgerald and, yes, even Ward himself. Next on his agenda is JuJu Smith-Schuster.