Ben Roethlisberger has not gotten a lot of practice reps in yet with rookie wide receiver James Washington, whom the Pittsburgh Steelers selected in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft, largely because of the fact that the veteran quarterback was on vacation for two thirds of the team’s OTA practices.
And he would have gotten a lot of work in with Washington had he been here, because the rookie has pretty much been running with the first-team offense out of necessity. Antonio Brown has only been at two OTAS practices, and JuJu Smith-Schuster has been dealing with a minor injury. Martavis Bryant and Eli Rogers are not here, so that’s your top four wide receivers from last season not on the field.
Still, there’s plenty of time for Roethlisberger and Washington to work on chemistry, and the quarterback has already come away impressed with the Oklahoma State product. He already told reporters after the first day of OTAs before he left for vacation that the rookie “looks a little raw”, but also added that he plays big and his ability to high-point passes “looks pretty impressive so far”.
The pair got their second practice session in on Wednesday, and Roethlisberger once again came away pleased. He reiterated that he was already “pretty impressed” with Washington after their first practice together, and added, “I like the way he makes combat catches. He’s strong at the catch point, so that’s good for now”.
While certainly not short, nor slow, Washington possesses neither elite height nor speed, but the fact that he embraces the physical aspects of the position has been a tremendous asset for him up to this point in his career, which has now reached the pivotal moment of trying to break in to the professional ranks.
He spoke to Missi Matthews in a sit-down interview for the team’s website not long after the draft and talked about how he has made the physicality of the sport something that he can use to his advantage. He certainly has the physical strength to make the most of his chances.
“Especially when I’m running a route and it’s a go ball, a DB draped over you, I love it”, he told Matthews last month. “I play that into my part. It helps me catch the ball better in some cases”. This naturally is an asset in making those ‘combat catches’ that Roethlisberger referred to.
It’s also a similar quality to that of Smith-Schuster, and one that they talked about valuing as something of a different skill set from most of the wide receivers that they had on the roster at that time. The Steelers certainly have and had a lot of talent in that room, but they haven’t always had those players who aggressively go after those proverbial ‘50/50’ balls.
Smith-Schuster showed last season that he is willing and able to do that. Roethlisberger’s early optimism that Washington may be able to contribute in a similar way is a welcome update as well.