PITTSBURGH (AP) _ The Pittsburgh Steelers focused their draft on revamping a once imposing defense. They still found time to give quarterback Ben Roethlisberger another weapon.
Enter Sammie Coates. The 6-foot-1, deep threat from Auburn started his first day of work Friday alongside other rookies for a brief minicamp before the team begins organized team activities this month.
The Steelers grabbed Coates in the third round, impressed with his 4.37-second 40-yard time and convinced his occasional bouts with the drops can be corrected with a little refining.
“He has good speed and can take the top off of the coverage,” wide receivers coach Richard Mann said. “He’s a guy who can track the ball down field very well.”
Coates did it with ease at Auburn, finishing with 11 touchdown receptions of 33-plus yards the past two seasons, including six scoring grabs of at least 50 yards.
“I just like playing deep balls,” Coates said. “It’s fun and I like competing. You have to be a ball hawk.”
He doesn’t just want to be labeled as a one-dimensional player.
Coates, a three-year starter at Auburn, capped his career with a 19-game reception streak and earned second team all-SEC honors. He is 10th in career receiving at Auburn with 1,757 yards and had 13 TD catches.
“My goal is to be an all-around receiver,” Coates said. “I want to be one of the best at everything, not just the deep route.”
He’ll have a chance to fit in with an emerging group highlighted by All-Pro Antonio Brown, who led the league with 129 receptions and 1,698 yards. Markus Wheaton, the team’s 2013 third-round pick, came on late in 2014 for the AFC North champions, while rookie Martavis Bryant served as the deep threat, catching eight touchdowns in just 10 games.
“I have a lot of great people in front of me,” Coates said. “They’re great wide receivers and I’m going to learn from them. I’m going to look up to them and watch everything that they do, so I can become one of the best.”
Coates is another dynamic option for Roethlisberger, who signed a five-year, $99 million extension after helping the offense finish No. 2 in total yards last season. Considering the defense is a question mark as it tries to replace veterans like Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor and Brett Keisel, the offense may have to carry the load for Pittsburgh to make it back to the postseason.
“I’m just willing to do what I need to do to get the job done,” Coates said. “I still have to be able to come in and answer the bell when they need me. It’s all hard work from here on out.”
Coates realizes he is far from a finished product. In college, he wasn’t an every-down player and sometimes encountered concentration problems that led to balls clanging off his hands to the turf..
“As a wide receiver, you’re going to have drops,” Coates said. “My biggest focus is getting better and catching as many balls as I can a day. It’s not that I can’t catch. I tend to run up the field sometimes. I just need to work on it every day.”
The Steelers also feel they can cure his college pass-catching woes.
“He’s had some drops, but they all drop it,” Mann said. “That’s why we have drills. With a chance to coach him up, we feel like we can make that better.”
NOTES: The Steelers signed defensive end L.T. Walton, their first of two sixth-round picks, to a four-year deal. Financial terms were not disclosed.
AP NFL websites: https://www.pro32.ap.org and https://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL