I don't know about you, but I'm getting used to the idea of Sammie Coates catching bombs deep down the field during Steelers games.
I realize he's only done this for two games, now, but it's amazing how quickly something becomes the new norm when you follow a team on a regular basis.
Even though I only had six-and-a-half quarters of 2016 game-day action as a sample size (for some reason I hate the term "sample size"), by the time quarterback Ben Roethlisberger reared back to throw a deep bomb midway through the third quarter of the Steelers 24-16 victory over Cincinnati at Heinz Field on Sunday, I knew who he was going for even as I watched the ball sail through the air. When good old No. 14 caught the pass 53 yards away, I thought, "Yeah, that's who I figured."
Six days earlier, in the third quarter of Pittsburgh's Week 1 match-up against the Redskins on Monday Night Football, when Roethlisberger picked up a low shotgun snap by center Maurkice Pouncey and chucked it down the left sideline, I thought, "Oh, he's throwing it away to avoid a sack." When I saw the pass fall into Coates' arms 42 yards later, I said, "Whoa, he caught it!"
In-between, Roethlisberger hit Coates with a 44-yard pass in the first quarter this past Sunday and tried to connect with him on another long bomb late in the first half, only for his pass to be intercepted by Dre Kirkpatrick.
Sure, the pass that was intercepted may have been ill-advised, and it did lead to a Mike Nugent field goal just before the break, but the point is, if I'm getting used to Coates as a deep threat, that means Roethlisberger is as well and, more importantly, he's beginning to trust the second-year receiver in that role.
I haven't researched every single snap over the first two games, but by my count, there have been at least four deep passes thrown to Coates totaling 187 yards (Kirkpatrick's interception came 48 yards down-field), for an average of 46.5 yards per attempt.
What that means is Pittsburgh appears to have found a deep threat alternative to the suspended Martavis Bryant.
It's safe to say Bryant has an edge over Coates when it comes to measurables, but not much of one. There's the three-inch difference in height (6-4 vs. 6-1), but everything else appears to be about the same—yes, even speed (4.42 vs. 4.43).
No, Coates has yet to demonstrate the kind of physical ability that Bryant did during a game against the Cardinals in Week 6 of 2015, when he hauled in a short slant pass from backup quarterback Landry Jones, started to his left, zigged back to his right down the near sideline and then zigged back to the middle of the field, all the while outracing approximately half-a-dozen Arizona defenders for an 88-yard touchdown catch and mostly run.
And what about a few weeks later, when Bryant busted out moves usually only possessed by receivers the size of Antonio Brown, when he caught a quick screen pass from Roethlisberger and caused four Raiders defenders to lose their jockstraps during a 14-yard scamper to the end zone?
That's ability that can't be replaced by just anyone, and, so far, Coates hasn't proven he can be the kind of all-around physical presence that Bryant was. But, then again, nobody knew what Bryant would turn into when he made his debut in Week 7 of the 2014 season and caught that 35-yard touchdown pass against the Texans.
Who could have guessed he'd go on to be a deep threat capable of hauling in a 94-yard bomb against the Bengals in a critical game in early December?
But even if Coates never truly measures up to Bryant, Bryant isn't here right now, and Coates is.
In a short time, Coates' reputation has changed from "poor hands" to "deep threat."
He may not be Martavis Bryant quite yet, but Sammie Coates appears to be good enough to play the role the Steelers will need him to play in 2016.