There is a reason why, beyond the headaches that accompanied his production and flashes of greatness, the Pittsburgh Steelers have no interest in bringing back Santonio Holmes.
They simply don’t need the player — who isn’t getting any younger — who won the MVP Award in their last Super Bowl victory but has been plagued by injuries in recent seasons.
Consider what offensive coordinator Todd Haley said last week about the Steelers’ wide receivers.
“It’s as deep a group as I’ve been around from top to bottom,” Haley said near the end of offseason practices. “I think some guys that are pretty good football players probably won’t make the team.”
Haley tempered his assessment of the Steelers’ wide receivers with the acknowledgement that the current group has yet to show what it can collectively do in pads.
And, of course, everything looks better in June when every team is still undefeated and pass-rushers are wearing shorts and are prohibited from hitting quarterbacks.
But Haley’s comment about the overall quality of the Steelers’ wide receivers resonates even at this time of year because of his resume.
He coached the wide receivers in Dallas and Chicago while climbing the coaching ladder, and Arizona had arguably the best wide receiver tandem in the NFL in 2008 when Haley was the offensive coordinator, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin helped the Cardinals to their first Super Bowl appearance and nearly led them to an upset of the Steelers in Tampa.
Whether the potential Haley sees in the Steelers’ wideouts translates into production a season after the losses of Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders, who combined for 1,342 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns in 2013, remains to be seen.
Here are a few things to like about the Steelers’ wide receivers following organized team activities and minicamp:
- Lance Moore, who signed a two-year, $3 million contract in March, stood out as much as any player during offseason practices. The former Saints wide receiver proved to be a quick study while learning a new offense, and he could put up big numbers if opposing teams pay too much attention to Pro Bowler Antonio Brown. Moore reminds me of Cotchery in the sense he is a pro’s pro.
- Markus Wheaton still has a ways to go to win the starting job held down by Sanders last season, and that is a good thing. Wheaton had a solid offseason, but he will have a lot of competition during training camp. Justin Brown, who stood out during offseason practices, will be among those who push Wheaton. The 6-3, 209-pound Brown spent all of last season on the practice squad but wide receivers coach Richard Mann said, “He’s just a different guy. He understands the concepts. He’s smoother. His body language is different.”
- The Steelers have enough depth at wide receiver that Darrius Heyward-Bey, the seventh overall pick of the 2009 NFL draft, will have trouble making the team. Heyward-Bey has to be consistent catching the call during training camp. But if he does that and makes the team, he would become a nice player to have as a No. 4 or No. 5 wide receiver. “He has the speed. He has the talent,” Mann said. Hopefully we will put him in a position to succeed with his speed and smartness, and we will take advantage of what he does best.”
Plenty is still unknown about the wide receiving corps. What exactly will the Steelers get out of rookie Martavis Bryant this season? Is Wheaton ready to emerge as a significant contributor after catching six passes for 64 yards as a rookie? Will Brown build on his strong offseason and make a serious push for a roster spot?
These are among the questions that won’t start producing answers until after the Steelers report to training camp on July 25.
As Mann said, “When we start playing tackle we will figure out what we have.”
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