Auburn Football: It’s Time For Sammie Coates to Step Up


Nov 30, 2013; Auburn, AL, USA; Auburn Tigers wide receiver Sammie Coates (18) scores a touchdown against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the fourth quarter at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Sammie Coates is a playmaker. We just haven’t seen him make many plays this season.

With an average of 20.23 yards per reception, the junior wide receiver ranks third on the all-time list among Auburn players. Coates’ 1,072 career receiving yards have already placed him 22nd on the school’s list and he’s needed just 54 catches to do it. Should he not jump to the NFL following the season, Coates has a shot to become Auburn’s all-time leading receiver.

Obviously, the vast majority of the 6-foot-2, 201-pound playmaker’s production came during the 2013 season, in which he caught 42 passes for 902 yards and seven touchdowns. The 21.5 yards per catch Coates averaged last season ranked third in the nation and was the best among those with at least 40 receptions.

In three consecutive 2013 games against Texas A&M, Florida Atlantic and Arkansas last year he had more than 100 yards and a touchdown. Also, Coates set a career high last season against LSU – this week’s opponent –with 139 receiving yards. And Coates proved he was more than just a deep threat. Even when he wasn’t taking a long pass to the house, Coates made highlight reel plays worthy of professional wrestling commentary.

The word “freak” has been used regularly to describe Sammie Coates. He ranked No. 1 on Fox Sports’ Top 20 “Freaks in College Football for ’14” list, in which Bruce Feldman stated:

"Asked about Coates’ 40-time, [strength coach Ryan] Russell said they use hand times (which are often faster than electronic times) and they clocked him eight times, dropped out the highest and lowest and said he was at 4.25. Coates’ vertical jump: 44 inches. He benches 405 pounds. Maybe even more impressively, Russell said, the wideout did three strict chin-up reps despite have three 45-pound plates strapped to a weight belt around his waist. “He’s just a stud,” said Russell. “He really has a ton of God-given ability.”"

And, of course, Coates was named Tim Tebow’s very first “Freak of the Week” on SEC Nation.

Overall, the 2013 season was a magical one for Tigers’ fans, coaches and players, and one of the biggest offensive weapons the Tigers had was wide receiver Sammie Coates. The 2014 season is off to a strong start for the Auburn football team, but Coates has rarely been involved.

The Leroy, Alabama native had one catch for 13 yards in the season opener against Arkansas, then missed the Week 2 home game against San Jose State with an undisclosed leg injury. Head coach Gus Malzahn said that holding the junior receiver out against the Spartans was only precautionary, and while Coates has played in both of the team’s following games against Kansas State and Louisiana Tech, he doesn’t quite seem the same player that provided electric plays over and over last season.

“Naturally it’s frustrating,” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said last week when discussing Coates’ struggles with injury. “When you work hard all off-season and you’re ready to have a big year, and then right out of the gates you kind of have a little bit of a hiccup. But his attitude’s been great, he’s come to work hard, he’s done everything he can do to get on the field the last two weeks.”

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Against the Wildcats, Coates caught two passes for 24 yards – which remain his best output of the 2014 season. He added two receptions for 19 yards last week against LA Tech, which gives him a grand total of five catches, 56 receiving yards and zero touchdowns.

Numbers aside, the biggest concern has been the lack of explosiveness we’ve seen from No. 18.

There have been a handful of deep passes that have fallen just out of reach of the normally speedy receiver. In fact, there were occasions in each game he has played where it looked like 2013 Sammie Coates would have caught a ball in stride and raced to the end zone, yet 2014 Sammie Coates either couldn’t catch up or couldn’t hold on to the ball.

It’s understandable that Coates might lose a step while dealing with a leg injury. And fortunately, through four games, the Tigers haven’t needed him to carry the receiving load like he did in 2013.

Junior college transfer Duke Williams has picked up the slack and leads the team with 23 receptions for 357 yards and three touchdowns. Williams was supposed to take pressure off of Sammie Coates and provide an additional weapon on offense. Instead, the junior has become Nick Marshall’s go to receiver.

And, last week senior receiver Quan Bray stepped up and had a career day. The 5-foot-10 speedster caught three passes for 91 yards against Louisiana Tech, two of which went for touchdowns. Bray also scored on a 76-yard punt return in the game – his second of the season.

The emergence of Williams and Bray is important, because the players have taken pressure off of an injured Coates first of all, and they will become the perfect compliment to a healthy Coates. Now that the Tigers are through the bulk of the non-conference schedule (and only have a late November tune-up with Samford in the week leading up to the Iron Bowl) Auburn needs Coates healthy, and they need him to preform like the Sammie Coates of 2013.

With the meat of the SEC schedule beginning this week against LSU, it’s time for Sammie Coates to step up.