It hasn't always been a breeze for Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Sammie Coates. After being drafted in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft, some huge expectations were placed on his shoulders. With an already stacked wide receiver depth chart, production wasn't always a necessity, but most expected Coates to at least contribute in his rookie season.
Those expectations weren't met in the regular season, as Coates had only one catch for 11 yards, all while playing in just 6 games as a first-year player.
The Auburn product's season got off to a rough start when Mike Tomlin publicly criticized Coates' conditioning, and overall lack of knowledge of the team's offense, while local media constantly compared Coates to another Steelers mid-round draft pick with similar tangible skills in Martavis Bryant. Although not as tall as Bryant, the comparisons could have been a bit unfair to Coates at such an early stage of his career.
The truth is, everyone develops at their own pace. Some pick things up almost immediately, while others never truly grasp the professional game and find their career to be over before it even started. For Coates, it may have taken a year to get acclimated, but he is finally starting to get comfortable in the team's system.
"I'm just starting to get comfortable," he told Paul Zeise of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I'm getting used to the offense, and like I said, I just want to get better every day that I'm out here. The rest will come. My opportunity is really one of those things where I need to come out here and show them I can compete and I'm capable of making plays.
"It's one thing to be fast, but you have to make plays when you have a chance to make plays, and that's really my focus. I want to show them I can make plays every day when we're out here."
If anyone has a quality opportunity heading into 2016, it would be Coates. With the year-long suspension to Bryant, it leaves a gaping hole on the team's depth chart, one which Coates is trying to fill. However, he knows it will take hard work, and he has a great mentor to show him the way in Antonio Brown.
"Antonio gives you pointers when you just watch him work," Coates said. "You see how hard he works, it really just rubs off on you. It's for me about my conditioning, being in great shape, and I feel like I am."
Ah yes, the conditioning which got him criticized by his head coach throughout training camp. Coates has learned his lesson, albeit the hard way.
"I have to take care of my body. I came in a little bit sloppy last year and I had to learn from my mistake and make sure I come in this year in great shape."
So what is the ceiling for Coates as a player? According to Brown, he can be as good as he wants to be.
"I think he's a hungry guy and he's excited about his opportunities. I think he can be as good as he wants to be. There will be a lot of opportunities for him to get in and make plays, and I'm sure he'll take advantage of them."
As for Coates, the high expectations go beyond his play in 2016, but the wide receiver group as a whole. "I think we're among the best wide receiving corps in the entire NFL."
The Steelers will need the receiving corps to be one of the best in the NFL for them to not just reach the 30 points per game goal they've set for themselves, but to live up to the hype as one of the best offensive units in the league.