It’s a well-known fact that Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger missed two thirds of the team’s OTA practices this year. However, what’s probably not well-known this year is that for the three OTA practices he did attend, he likely made rookie wide receiver James Washington, the team’s second-round draft pick this year, a better player.
“He’s a good teacher,” Washington said of Roethlisberger at the conclusion of Thursdays OTA practice, the final one of 2018, according to 93.7 The Fan. “I run a route, he’ll tell me what I did good, what I need to improve on. He’s testing me, throwing balls everywhere and just seeing my range of motion just testing and he’s a good quarterback to work with.”
As you can see in the video clip from Thursday’s practice below from Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com that I slowed down, it looks like Roethlisberger was testing Washington’s range in the end zone. The rookie wide receiver not only did a nice job of elevating to catch the football, he first showed some nice footwork in his route.
After Wednesday’s OTA practice, the first one that Roethlisberger attended since the team’s very first session several weeks ago, the quarterback talked about the way he likes Washington’s ability to make combative catches. On Thursday, the rookie wide receiver was informed about those remarks made by Roethlisberger and asked if he thinks that’s a primary ability he brings to the Steelers.
“Yeah, I think so, just because at Oklahoma State that was like coached everyday, the combat catches, catching in traffic,” Washington said. “Especially now at this point, no catch is going to be just wide open, clean now. Everybody is good at this point.”
In addition to Roethlisberger voluntarily missing most of the Steelers OTA practices this year, the same went for wide receiver Antonio Brown. On top of his absence, the Steelers other starting wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, has been sidelined throughout OTAs with an undisclosed injury. With both starters not practicing, Washington has benefited by seeing extra reps and was asked on Thursday if he feels like he was able to take advantage of them.
“Oh, for sure,” Washington said. “I mean, the more reps, the quicker I can learn this offense and just the quicker I can be a part of this team and help them win.”
With the Steelers mandatory minicamp next on the schedule for Washington, he admitted that the last three weeks of OTA practices have made him a lot more comfortable.
“Honestly I’m a lot more comfortable,” Washington said. “I’m kind of getting used to the speed of the game and concepts are getting easier to kind of remember and you know, it all comes with just more time on the field and meeting with coaches after everyone leaves.”
While he is getting used to the change in speed at the NFL level, Washington admits that has been one of his biggest challenges since being drafted by the Steelers.
“It’s so much faster than college,” Washington said. “I mean, you’ve got defensive linemen that get to the flats so fast and it’s just something that’s gonna just have to take time and get used to.”