On Monday, new Steelers wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard spoke with the media for the first time since being hired this past February. Fielding questions from Steelers reporters, Hilliard discussed his stable of young wide receivers as well as a variety of other topics.
One question which was brought up specifically was if Hilliard has been able to spend much time with Steelers franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
“There is never going to be enough time for me to spend with the quarterback and trying to pick his brain in regard to what he likes and what he wants” Hilliard explained. “If nothing else, just making sure the young men are where they are supposed to be when he is ready to throw the football.”
In most cases, the key to an offense’s passing game is having the quarterback and receivers all on the same page. When the quarterback reads the coverage, he knows based on a particular read how the receiver should react, depending on the play which was called. If the receiver does not make the same read, the likelihood for success on the play drops. The quarterback goes through their progression and seeing a receiver not respond in the way the quarterback anticipates usually has the passer quickly moving to the next read. Depending on the play, a quarterback sometimes already makes the throw in anticipation of the receiver reacting in a certain way. When the two players are not on the same page, fans can often see an interesting discussion going on between the two players.
It seems Hilliard realizes the best way to prepare his young receivers for the season is for him to also understand exactly what quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is reading and thinking when diagnosing an opponent’s defense. Of course it is important for the quarterback and the receiver to have the mental connection, but having the coach get on board as well will only benefit the entire receivers room.
In a way, it’s like having the answer key to help study for a test.
One thing Hilliard brings to the table as the Steelers wide receivers coach is someone who has ‘been there, done that.’ Selected by the New York Giants as the seventh overall pick of the 1997 draft out of the University of Florida, Hilliard played 12 years in the NFL both for the Giants and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With over 6,000 career receiving yards and 35 touchdowns, Hilliard never reached a 1,000 yard season but did have eight scores in 2000 with the Giants.
But Hilliard is not worried about his players focusing on his NFL career.
“I don’t think those boys are interested in watching me play,” he confessed.
Instead, Hilliard is focused on turning the Steelers young receivers into the most successful unit they can be. There is a lot of potential in the wide receivers room, and Hilliard is tasked with tapping into it as much as possible. If Hilliard is going to help his players understand the mind of Ben Roethlisberger, he will have to do the same.
“I am looking forward to diving in and spending a bunch of time with the quarterback and hopefully we can all get accelerated to where it needs to be so we can be the best offense the league.”
Welcome to Steelers Nation, Mr. Hilliard. We hope so too.