Steelers receivers grateful to have Ray Sherman on board until vacancy is filled
When James Washington reported to his second training camp with the Pittsburgh Steelers, it didn’t take long to discover Darryl Drake wasn’t the only veteran coach providing wisdom in his position room.
Ray Sherman, who served as the team’s offensive coordinator in 1998, was back at Saint Vincent from the beginning of camp, serving as a consultant for the offense in general and the wide receivers in particular.
Sherman, 67, hadn’t coached in the NFL since 2015, but Washington saw the way that Drake, 62, revered his elder.
And so when Drake died unexpectedly Aug. 11, it was only natural for the Steelers to turn to Sherman to help the wide receivers get through the difficult days that followed.
Although the Steelers haven’t officially named Drake’s successor, Sherman kept working with the wide receivers when the preseason shifted from Saint Vincent to UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
“It’s been good because Coach Drake used to tell us that he would ask (Sherman) questions,” Washington said. “For Coach Drake to tell us that explains the type of guy that Coach Sherman is and the knowledge he has and all that he brings to the table as a coach.”
Sherman started coaching in the NFL in 1988 — before any of the Steelers wide receivers were born — and worked in the league every season except one until his final season with the St. Louis Rams in 2015.
After that one ill-fated year as Bill Cowher’s offensive coordinator with the 7-9 Steelers, Sherman spent the 2000 season as offensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings before serving as wide receivers coach with Green Bay (2000-04), Tennessee (2005-06), Dallas (2007-10) and St. Louis (2012-15).
Among the wide receivers Sherman coached were Jerry Rice, Drew Hill, Antonio Freeman, Donald Driver and Terrell Owens.
“Coach Ray is a great coach,” rookie Diontae Johnson said. “He’s coached a lot of great receivers. He really knows the game. He knows what he’s talking about. He’s somebody I can go to.”
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has delayed naming a wide receivers coach out of respect to Drake, who was entering his second season with the team. Asked Wednesday how valuable it has been for the Steelers to have Sherman around, Tomlin only would allow that it has gone “really well.”
Sherman is the most experienced candidate at the Steelers’ disposal. Blaine Stewart, a coaching assistant who is in his first NFL job, also has worked closely with the wide receivers as has coaching intern William Gay, the team’s longtime defensive back who is working on his first NFL staff.
“It’s the best opportunity to have him step in and play that role for us,” JuJu Smith-Schuster said. “Blaine has done a great job, too. It takes us all together.”
Smith-Schuster said Sherman’s presence around the wide receivers has provided comfort since Drake’s passing.
“To go through this at a young age, 22 years old, there’s no words, no feelings to explain what we’re going through,” Smith-Schuster said. “It’s tough, but for Ray, he’s been retired, and for him to go out of his way to be here means a lot not only to myself but to the other receivers in our room.
“We don’t want to change that.”
Washington noticed Sherman preferred to stay in the background and observe Drake’s teaching, but he also was willing to make suggestions to the receivers.
“He was kind of shadowing Coach Drake,” he said. “There were times when he would give us some advice, too, just to piggyback off the stuff that Coach Drake said.”
Drake began position meetings with a prayer, offered inspirational messages and had colorful sayings such as “Shut Out the Noise” that were his way of keeping players from being reminded of the 2018 distraction-filled season.
Sherman has taken a more low-key approach in the days since Drake’s passing.
“He’s still trying to fill the shoes and get the knowledge of this offense,” Washington said. “Later on, I think things like that will happen.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .