It only took an attention-grabbing breakout preseason performance, but it appears that Pittsburgh Steelers second-round rookie wide receiver James Washington is finally set to take relatively consistent reps with the first-team offense, a role that he figures to be in by the time the regular season begins.
The Oklahoma State product, who was relatively quiet during his first preseason game, had a monster second half on Thursday night with Joshua Dobbs at quarterback, ultimately finishing the game with five receptions for 114 yards and a pair of touchdowns, both of them impressive contested grabs. The second of the two was virtually a simultaneous possession scenario.
Up until this past week of practice, Washington had gotten desperately few reps with the first-team group while quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was on the field working with them. So perhaps it should be no surprise that the two of them are having some growing pains at the moment in terms of establishing some rhythm and chemistry between passer and catcher.
While Washington noted during Sunday’s open practice at Heinz Field that it was “the most I’ve worked with him since I’ve been on this team”, he also stressed that they have to keep working on their connection and that he has to “clean up a few areas”, one mistake he attributed to making “a rookie move”.
The Steelers have a few weeks and a pair of preseason games—or one preseason game, rather, since Roethlisberger only participates in the third—to get the rapport between the franchise quarterback and their talented new rookie wide receiver up to a level that is ready to be unveiled onto the NFL by the time the catches start counting for something.
Head Coach Mike Tomlin was asked after the last preseason game about whether or not Washington had earned the opportunity to move up to the next group, and he responded that he would “see how it goes”. I was a bit incredulous over this comment and cautioned that there is little time to waste in putting the two together.
It would appear that Tomlin has seen how things are going and elected to do just that, and just in time, too, though it’s still not set in stone. The area of participation in which Washington worked with the first group coincided with the absence of Antonio Brown. If Brown were there, would he still have been in the first group? I would hope so. But that’s another topic.