With senior Emory Blake the only proven outside receiver returning for the Tigers, the door is wide open for several players to step into a major role with the offense. It's doubtful that anybody on the roster has better physical tools to handle that assignment than the 6-2, 203-pound redshirt freshman.
One of the fastest players on Auburn's roster, Coates was expected to contribute last fall as a true freshman, but a preseason injury forced a redshirt year. Back in action for spring training, he showed flashes of his talent, but not enough to satisfy the coaching staff, which has at times had praise for his play and has also challenged him to do better.
"He has got to grow up and make plays," Coach Gene Chizik says. "He is very blessed with a lot of speed, ability and size, but if it doesn't show up with him consistently blocking and catching the football he is just another guy."
Coates has a background as a consistent performer and a player who would come through in the clutch as a three-sport star at Leroy High, where he was a key player on state championship teams in football and baseball plus an outstanding performer in basketball.
His skill level was so high he could have played collegiately in any of the three sports and pro baseball scouts took a look at Coates as a center fielder before he made it clear he was going to play college football.
Sammie Coates is shown at spring practice.
If Clint Moseley retains his role as starting quarterback, it won't be a surprise if Coates becomes one of his favorite targets. The two were a productive duo in high school when Moseley was Alabama's Mr. Football as a senior and Coates was a sophomore.
Coates caught 57 passes for 1,170 yards and 14 touchdowns as a senior while earning Class 2A Back of the Year honors. He rushed for eight more touchdowns and intercepted two passes. He was named to the Orlando Sentinel's All-South team as a senior while playing for the state champion Bears and was named Most Valuable Player of the state championship game after catching two touchdown passes in the contest.
Danny Powell, who coached Coates in high school, predicted the receiver would get bigger and stronger in college as he concentrated on one sport and trained for football throughout the year. That has happened with Coates gaining 23 pounds since he signed with the Tigers.
Powell pointed out that Coates was a "hard worker" and an above average student in high school, who was respected at Leroy High. "There are nothing but good things to say about Sammie," Powell said, adding, "I believe he has a chance to be one of those real difference-makers."
Coates certainly has the potential to make big plays for the Tigers with the speed to get behind the secondary and outstanding leaping ability to go high over defenders to make a catch. However, based on his play in spring drills, he needs to do a better job of showing the toughness necessary to catch he ball in traffic at the SEC level as well as become more consistent as a blocker.
If Coates improves in those areas, he should develop into a player the quarterbacks like throwing the ball to this fall. The wide receiver looks to be in the right place at the right time to help his team win football games this year.