While many NFL players migrate to Los Angeles or Miami or Phoenix for the offseason, Sammie Coates has been in Pittsburgh all winter, frequenting the Pittsburgh Steelers' facility on weekdays, showing his bosses dedication.
Coates knows this is good for him, but selfishly he's also feeding his insistence to save money by any means necessary.
“I’m just really cheap,” Coates said. “That’s the way I am. If I don’t have to spend it, I’m not going to do it. I’ve got free workouts here, trainers right there, a good strength coach, you get to eat [free], it’s a seven-minute commute.”
At least Coates is planning for the long term, which is exactly what the Steelers need from their third-round pick suddenly thrust into an elevated role.
Coates doesn’t want any more surprises, especially without the backdrop of Martavis Bryant monopolizing deep-ball reps. The Steelers haven’t flinched publicly in the weeks after Bryant’s one-year suspension, pointing to Coates as a capable suitor to offset Bryant’s lost production. Coach Mike Tomlin said he has been pleased by Coates' desire to adjust to NFL life.
That’s a faithful gesture from Pittsburgh, considering Coates’ rookie season was basically over before it began. Entering 2015, Coates' diet was too reliant on fried foods and pizza. He weighed 227 during the season, about 10 pounds more than his preference. He tweaked his hamstring in rookie camp and recovering was a process. The injury affected his training camp.
Coates called conditioning his rookie "downfall."
“I wasn’t in the greatest shape I wanted to be,” Coates said.
That's why the postseason message from Steelers coaches was spot on.
“You finished strong, you have to start strong this time,” Coates recalled. “I can’t come in slow. I have to come in fast and ready to go.”
Branded out of Auburn as an explosive but unpolished receiver, Coates entered his rookie year eager to remove his labels. An uneven training camp checked Coates at his core. He vowed to keep his body “safe” from minor injuries by training harder. He traded hot wings for broccoli -- lots of broccoli -- and only baked or grilled meats.
He’s now around 220, maybe under depending on the day. He's embracing a Steelers system that asks receivers to master every nuance, from slot work to corner fade routes.
"You notice a difference real quick," Coates said about this offseason.
With one catch for 11 yards in the regular sesaon, Coates’ biggest impact in 2015 might have come in the receiver room, where he’s the only married one of the bunch. Coates met wife Kailey at Auburn, and the two married about a year ago.
Wide-receiver teammates asked him what it's like to be married. Coates told them they can have a great marriage if they want it, because it's about what you put into it.
Eventually, the same was true on the field for Coates, who rewarded the team’s faith with three catches for 61 yards in the AFC divisional playoff loss to Denver.
Newfound expectations are underneath his feet, but Coates must validate his own first.
“Coaches can tell you one thing, but you still have to work and show you can handle it,” Coates said. “It’s going to be a good task for me. Even though the door opened up the way it shouldn’t have with my teammate [Bryant], I have to step in and be accountable the way he would be.”
Coates has texted Bryant but otherwise doesn’t want to bother him during a personal time. Bryant has been suspended twice for violations of the NFL's substance-abuse policy. He underwent counseling last season and is expected to attend rehab this offseason. The Steelers drafted Coates last year with Bryant's problems in mind, knowing the possibility of a four-game suspension loomed.
Coates doesn't know what will happen with Bryant, but he knows he likes his life in Pittsburgh. Kailey is a med student at Pitt. The two hang out at home, cook, watch movies -- and don't spend much money.
Coates' goal is simple: consistency on and off the field.
"As a wide receiver, you have to be consistent," Coates said. "Coming in, I had a lot of people questioning things. In my offense [at Auburn], I barely got five balls thrown at me a game. So my biggest goal now is doing things over and over to be great at it. You have to be able to do it all."