The Pittsburgh Steelers used a second-round draft pick on a wide receiver for the second year in a row when they selected Oklahoma State’s James Washington back during the draft. The expectation was for him to be the team’s number three wide receiver, replacing Martavis Bryant, by the season opener.
An oblique injury, which Missi Matthews stated during an interview with the wide receiver occurred in the preseason game against the Green Bay Packers, delayed those plans just a bit. He had five receptions for 114 yards and two touchdowns in the game, but had to leave the third game early and did not play in the finale.
While he was not on the injury report leading up to the regular season opener, the Steelers were not ready for Washington to play a significant role in the offense. They chose to dress all six wide receivers on the roster, using Justin Hunter as the number three target. Washington only played 11 snaps and was not targeted.
But Hunter was inactive on Sunday, and Washington played the bulk of the game, catching his first pass for 14 yards and a score. He was targeted five times in the game, but caught the only catchable pass to come his way. He did have two receptions prior to that, which were wiped out by penalty.
Matthews asked him what was different between the first and the second game and why he was able to be involved a lot more. “I would just say my preparation”, he said. “You know, coming off the injury, it kind of I guess set me back and everyone didn’t really know if I would play. But the past week it felt great. The training staff did an excellent job getting me back ready”.
So, from the sounds of it, Washington’s oblique injury really was a big reason for him being a minimal participant in the season opener. Had he not been injured, chances are that he would have been the primary number three target.
By the time the team was preparing for game two, the Steelers felt comfortable enough in what they saw from the rookie wide receiver that they made the decision to give him the number three role, which allowed them to deactivate Hunter.
That doesn’t mean that there isn’t still work to do, of course. There is still the rapport that he must build with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. “I’ve got to just be with Ben a little longer and just kind of build his trust coming into this game”, he admitted.
“It was a setback, but you’ve just got to stay positive and keep faith and keep moving forward”, Washington said of dealing with the oblique injury. But now it’s behind him, and he is a regular part of the offense going forward.