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Demarcus Ayers epitomizes what being a part of the Steelers is all about

How Demarcus Ayers embodies the characteristics of being a member of the Steelers.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

“The standard is the standard.” Head coach Mike Tomlin’s favorite phrase is infamous across Steelers nation because of the no-nonsense mentality it sets for the team. No matter if a star player is injured, or what desperate situation the team finds itself in, the Steelers’ coaches and players are expected to maintain their high level of play and do their jobs. During the last three weeks, the player that has most epitomized Tomlin’s mantra is rookie receiver Demarcus Ayers.

“The standard is the standard”

Ayers was drafted by the Steelers in the seventh-round out of Houston. He wasn’t highly regarded entering the draft. While scouts praised his agility, they also noted his route running and small frame were not ideal for the NFL. Ayers didn’t initially make the Steelers’ opening-day roster, instead he was signed to the practice-squad roster.

“The standard is the standard”

When players are signed to the practice squad, the odds of fans hearing from them again during the season are slim. But Ayers seized the opportunity and worked to hone his skills to address the weak points in his game. In an article Thursday in the Pittsburgh Post -Gazette, fellow former practice-squad receiver Cobi Hamilton told Ed Bouchette about the philosophy that the young players have during the season:

“The standard is the standard”

That confidence and energy Hamilton spoke of has paid dividends for the Steelers down the stretch of the 2016-17 season. The Steelers have a dynamic offense, but it’s almost been taken for granted how much they’ve had to overcome this year at the receiver position. The Steelers lost Martavis Bryant for the entire year, which put pressure on Markus Wheaton in a contract year to become a true No. 2 option across from Antonio Brown. Unfortunately for the Steelers, Wheaton was ineffective early in the year and ended up on injured reserve after only four games. Prized free agent acquisition Ladarius Green missed most of the season (and possibly will miss the rest of the postseason) with injuries to his foot and head. Darius Heyward-Bey missed six games as well. Those four players all had been expected to contribute in major ways this year, but instead missed a combined 45 games. Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, and Ben Roethlisberger are great players, but it takes more than three people to make an offense go. Luckily for the Steelers, at the same time that these injuries occurred, players like Hamilton, Eli Rogers, and Ayers had been diligently working on their craft. When the opportunity came, they were ready.

“The standard is the standard”

On Christmas night, the Steelers trailed their arch-rival, the Baltimore Ravens, 27-24 with 1:18 on the clock. If the Steelers failed to score, their season was over. Before the season started in September, if somone had asked Steelers fans which players would touch the ball on a drive to save their season, Ayers wouldn’t have received any votes at all. Yet in in his first game on the active roster, Ayers made his first career catch, a nine-yard reception on first down, with one minute remaining in the game and, possibly, in the Steelers’ season. The catch moved the Steelers into the long end of Chris Boswell’s field-goal range, but that wouldn’t be necessary because, later in the drive, Antonio Brown would score the game-winning touchdown. While one catch for nine yards isn’t an awe-inspiring final stat line, the situation in which the one catch occurred is significant. For Ayers to be on the field in such a critical situation is a testament to how hard he’s worked to make the coaches notice him. Ben Roethlisberger was comfortable enough with Ayers to target him and trust he’d get out of bounds to stop the clock. The Steelers made no excuses. No matter that it was Ayers’ first game, no matter that he hadn’t had a single catch yet. The coaches, players, and Ayers himself all had confidence that he could handle the situation, and it paid off.

In the meaningless Week 17 game against the Browns, Ayers scored his first career touchdown, a well-deserved prize for his hard work all year long. In the Steelers’ wildcard win over Miami, Ayers had two receptions for 21 yards. Again, the totals aren’t the important part of the story; it’s the fact that Ayers is trusted enough to appear in a playoff game. While the stars on the Steelers’ offense will generate the most headlines, they also attract the most attention from opponents, which is why role players like Ayers, Hamilton, and Rogers need to step up and help out the offense. Ayers never gave up on himself during the season, even though it would have been easy to get discouraged after not making the active roster. He worked hard and developed confidence in himself, which led to the Steelers developing confidence in him. Later in the Post-Gazette article, Ayers spoke about the importance that the emergence of himself, Hamilton, and Rogers have had on the offense:

The Steelers now know they can count on other members of their offense besides Brown, Bell, and Roethlisberger because, after all, “The Standard is the Standard.”