Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has grown to have a reputation of being hard on rookies, particularly wide receivers, testing them in practice on the field to see what they are capable of doing. This is a reputation that he has largely created himself, since he openly talks about those tests, especially in recent years.
The 2018 NFL Draft brought Roethlisberger yet another rookie in the form of Oklahoma State wide receiver James Washington—or in other words, another subject to test out. And this one has seemed to be more than willing.
He recently sat down for a sit-down interview with Missi Matthews for the team’s website, during which he discussed a variety of topics. One of the subjects that he addressed with Matthews was Roethlisberger’s comments about testing the rookie. He was asked if he appreciates that, and he said, “I do”.
“It shows me that I’m capable of doing things and it shows him that I’m capable of making plays for him”, he said. And what exactly do those tests consist of? That was another question that he was asked, and for which he had an answer.
“He’ll kind of flip the formation on me and want me to know what X does, and want me to know what F and what Y does”, Washington told Matthews. “Those are like his tests. And when he throws me the ball he’ll put it all over the place to test my athletic ability. But I feel like I’m doing pretty good”.
After a strong second preseason game, Washington’s rookie progress was stalled by an oblique injury. He was unable to finish the third preseason game, failing to catch a pass, and he did not participate in the finale.
That bled into the regular season. While he was able to be a full participant during the week, the Steelers were not prepared to play him extensively. He only saw 11 snaps during the game, with no targets, but his role changed last week.
Washington played the vast majority of the game and was targeted five times, mostly on deep passes that were out of his reach. He did catch one pass for a 14-yard touchdown. He also had two other short receptions that were negated by penalty.
The relationship between a quarterback and a pass catcher is one that can only be built by on-field repetition, which starts on the practice field but has to continue in real game situations. The relationship between Roethlisberger and Washington is still in its infancy stages, but there is reason to believe that there is a bright future between them—depending on how long the former actually sticks around.