James Washington exploded in the second half of his second preseason game for the Pittsburgh Steelers, reeling off big catch after big catch and finishing the contest with five receptions for 114 yards and two touchdowns. Three of those catches went for explosive plays and another came a yard shy of it, though it did score.
But he is still playing deep into the game, checking after players like Darrius Heyward-Bey and Justin Hunter have already come and gone. While the expectation is that he is going to be one of the Steelers’ top three wide receivers when the regular season begins, his playing time in the preseason has yet to represent that.
Will we finally see that change during the critical third preseason game after his stellar showing against the Green Bay Packers? “We’ll see how it goes”, Head Coach Mike Tomlin said of that possibility immediately following the game.
“He didn’t do anything in this stadium that we hadn’t seen on the practice fields of Latrobe”, he added, so that’s a good sign. As anybody who follows Alex Kozora’s training camp reports should be amply aware, the sort of combative catches that he made in Green Bay had become a staple of his repertoire by the time the Steelers packed up their dorms at Saint Vincent College.
It certainly seems as though the coaching staff is making an active effort to keep Washington humble, though he doesn’t give the slightest appearance of needing an extra dose of humility. If they are simply asking him to earn his job, I think he has already come pretty close to doing that.
I would fully expect Washington to log time in the next time with Ben Roethlisberger and the first-team offense. I would like to think that it will be a significant number of snaps as one of the top three wide receivers, playing ahead of Hunter and Heyward-Bey, but, frankly, it’s hard to predict. He may only get some rotational work, though I think it would be a mistake.
Roethlisberger and Washington should get as many reps together as possible right now. There’s little sense in beating around the bush, delaying the inevitable outcome. Washington is one of the team’s top three targets in the passing game, so it would behoove them to treat him as such sooner rather than later.
We’ll see? We just saw. Tomlin praised the rookie for the fact that he has consistently been doing the same things from college to the professional practice fields and now inside of NFL stadiums. There’s nothing left for him to prove, at least as far as earning first-team reps is concerned. Please stop making it a question as though there is one.