Steelers Promote Demarcus Ayers – Are Sammie Coates Broken Fingers Leaving Him Hanging?

Unless the player becomes the next James Harrison, NFL roster moves involving spot number 53 amount to little more than trivia. For example, do you care let alone remember how many times the Steelers cut and resigned Isaiah Green in 2013?

  • But sometimes moves that involve roster spot number 53 do signal something important.

The decision to sign Randy Bullock due to the abdomen Chris Boswell suffered appeared to be trivial. Sure, the Houston Texans signed Al-Hajj Shabazz whom the Steelers hoped to bring back, and if Al-Hajj Shabazz becomes the next Mel Blount, this will be news. But that’s not what we’re talking about.

When the Steelers cut Randy Bullock they neither activated Brandon Dixon nor Mike Hinton, both defensive backs, from their practice squad, but instead activated 7th round draft pick wide receiver Demarcus Ayers.

Both coaches and reporters had telegraphed the move even before the Bullock signing became necessary, so promoting Demarcus Ayers from the practice squad surprised no one.

But it does raise another interesting question – what’s going on with Sammie Coates?

Sammie Coates, Steelers vs. Bronos, Demarcus Ayers

Sammie Coates during the Steelers 2015 Divisional Playoff loss to the Broncos. Photo Credit: Helen H. Richardson, via Advanced Sports Logic

The Curious Case of Sammie Coates

When it became clear that Antonio Brown could not play in the AFC Divisional playoff game vs. Denver attention immediately shifted not to the need for Markus Wheaton and Darrius Heyward-Bey to step up to support Martavis Bryant, but to the impact that Sammie Coates might have.

Fortunately, this site was wrong. Sammie Coates had been making progress during practice and he did step up in the Steelers playoff loss to the Broncos. After news of Martavis Bryant’s suspension broke the story was that Sammie Coates most likely to take his place.

  • Sammie Coates got 2016 off to a strong start, logging 20 catches in six games for 2 TD’s at an average of 21.3 yards per reception.

But he got injured in the Steelers win against the New York Jets, and there the story gets murky. As Jim Wexell pointed out on Steel City Insider:

First, he didn’t know how he gashed a hand that required stitches in a game just over two months ago, and then he found out he broke a finger, too. And then a week or so later we learned he had two broken fingers.

The word was that Sammie Coates broken fingers didn’t allow him to play wide receiver, but did allow him to play special teams. Snap counts bear that out, as Sammie Coates participated in 57% of the Steelers offensive snaps in the Jets game before he was injured, but has seen his percentages drop to single digits, save for the Ravens loss (where he, perhaps not coincidentally dropped a would-be game winning touchdown pass) and some second half action during the Thanksgiving win over the Colts.

But Sammie Coates participation on special teams has increased during that time span. (It would seem like the blocking and tackling needed on special teams wouldn’t be conducive to the healing of broken fingers, but I am no doctor.)

Ed Bouchette said as recently as this week in an Pittsburgh Post Gazette on-line video, that he has seen Coates wearing his finger in a splint, and so it is entirely possible that, like with Ladarius Green’s ankle, Sammie Coates broken fingers are just taking longer to heal than normal.

  • But with three games left in the regular season, it is clear that Ben Roethlisberger needs another target to take heat off of Antonio Brown.

Neither Eli Rogers nor Cobi Hamilton has they can be that player. Now, do Mike Tomlin, Todd Haley and Richard Mann really think that a rookie 7th round draft pick like Demarcus Ayers can fill that void?

Probably not, but adding another wide receiver to the active roster at least suggests that they’re second guessing Sammie Coates ability to play that role.

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