Auburn Football: WR Sammie Coates is a man-child
The Auburn Tigers are once again poised to make a run at a national title behind one of the most innovative offenses in college football history. The architect, head coach Gus Malzahn, has installed a high-powered, smashmouth, uptempo, “Showtime”-like attack centered around the ground game.
But as Georgia Tech’s rush-centric offense has shown, having an athletic freak — like the Yellow Jackets had with current Denver Broncos’ star Demaryius Thomas — that can exploit man coverage in both the short and long game can be worth its weight in gold.
All indications are that Auburn may look to take the next step in the evolution of its offense by ensuring the uber-talented Sammie Coates becomes even more of a focal point. If so, then defensive coordinators, and defensive players in general, better break out a fresh pack of Goody’s Headache Powder — because Coates is simply put, a man amongst boys.
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If it seems as though Coates came out of nowhere last season, it’s because he virtually did. His minuscule stats as a freshman — in the 2012-13 season — was a pure byproduct of one of the most inept offenses in recent SEC memory. His totals of six receptions for 114 yards with two touchdowns wasn’t anything to write home about, per se, but some of those catches were of the eye-opening variety.
But it was his follow-up breakout season that put plenty of people on notice that he was a force of competitive nature — with a major emphasis on “force!”
At 6’2″, and a “listed” 201 pounds, Coates is a spectacular blend of ferocity, speed and agility. His 42-catch, 902-yard (21.5 average per catch) performance was just scratching the surface of what he can ultimately do.
This performance was noteworthy because of a couple of things: Auburn’s style of offense and the lack of variety in the route tree available to the receivers. This means that defensive backs often knew what might be coming and still couldn’t do a darn thing about it.
Now that’s the epitome of “gangsta!”
Coates’ style of play, “bully ball” mixed with supreme athleticism, is very reminiscent of former Alabama star Julio Jones (I know both sides of that rivalry like hearing that). At 6’3″, 215 pounds, Jones was a physical mismatch for just about any defensive back not named Patrick Peterson (LSU).
Although we would see flashes of Jones’ big-play ability, it wasn’t truly until the NFL Scouting Combine (and definitely now with the Atlanta Falcons) that we knew he was one of the fastest receivers on earth — especially for a man his size. His dominance was predominantly in the short-to-intermediate game.
Coates has shown that same exact dominance. And then some.
Here we see Coates involved in one of the most amazing physical displays of last season — a sequence dubbed “The Stiff Arm.” Working against Texas A&M corner De’Vante Harris, Coates caught a hitch route and proceeded to spread Harris across the field like fertilizer.
Here’s a closer look: Coates catches him leaning by giving him a quick move toward the sideline and sticks him before he really has a chance to plant his feet. Actually the only thing planted was Harris’ back. When you can bully a very talented corner like that you are certainly a force to be reckoned with.
But outside of hitches, the variation in the short-to-intermediate game just isn’t there for the “X” or “Z” receivers in the Malzahn offense. Their roles are mostly to create explosive plays on the outside; nobody consistently does that better than Coates.
When you notice how well-built and physical Coates is, one would think his natural position would be in the slot in Auburn’s offense. He would be an absolute monster catching swing passes in the flat and running over defensive backs.
But when you run a reported 4.35 40-yard dash (according to ESPN’s Alex Scarborough), using that innate gift may be in your best interest. When you break down the film you notice Coates oscillating between two deep routes: the post and the 9-route.
And even though defenses know it’s coming, his being afforded man coverage — because of the focus being on the run-heavy, play-action based sets — makes him virtually indefensible.
Here against Arkansas, the corner provided Coates with a free release off the line of scrimmage. As someone who played DB, albeit at the semi-pro level, I’d often provide free releases to the bigger receivers as well. The thought behind that being they stood a better chance of getting free by being physical opposed to simply running by me.
Coates is a tough cover because he can do both — as this CB found out. He immediately separated at the bottom of the route and even had the wherewithal, and body control, to adjust to the under-thrown pass.
Once he saw the corner was pretty much out of the play he put it on cruise control. Once he saw the help defender in full FEMA recovery mode, he put it in sixth gear. It’s downright scary to see someone that solidly built with that type of speed.
In Auburn’s loss to the rival LSU Tigers, Coates had himself quite a day: four catches for 139 yards. While LSU played very stout in the front seven, they had very little to offer Coates.
Here he took the very talented Tre’Davious White to school. Although White is playing the trail technique, as he has safety help over the top, Coates eats up the press and splits the double with ease.
He also channels his inner Randy Moss by not telegraphing the catch (putting his hands up too early). Instead he runs under the catch and makes this over-the-shoulder grab look rather routine.
This is pretty much the same scenario on the other side of the field where talented corner/safety Jalen Mills resides. Corners are afraid to press this freak, so they believe they can slow him down by hand fighting.
That’s akin to trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube (it ain’t happening).
Coates will be the key cog in a receiving corps that was once considered one of the weakest in the country. The addition of the No. 1-ranked receiver in the JUCO ranks, Duke Williams, along with explosive receivers Ricardo Louis and Quan Bray, round out the perfect type of unit to support a high-powered offense.
As apt as the Jones comparisons are for Coates, he also compares favorably to Sammy Watkins (fourth-overall selection of the Buffalo Bills), the former Clemson star who also put “bully ball” on the map while still possessing blazing deep speed.
If Malzahn allows him to moonlight (more often) at one of the inside positions, he would be able to punish defenders and move the chains with the best of them. This would also provide more opportunities for us to see him choke slam would-be defenders.
Is it game day, yet?