Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wide receiver James Washington played just 11 snaps in the team’s opening game of the season last week against the Cleveland Browns. On Sunday, he played six times as many—though he only caught one more pass than in the opener, which was zero.
The second-round pick ended up missing nearly half of the preseason with an oblique injury and was slow to get back to practice, which was likely a factor in his limited offensive opportunities in Week One. Justin Hunter dressed and was the primary number three receiver for the game.
But by Week Two, the veteran receiver was a healthy scratch while Washington played 66 snaps. He saw about half a dozen official targets, though he was only able to catch one of them, which resulted in a 14-yard touchdown for his first official touch. He had two receptions prior to that, which were wiped out by penalty.
“I felt comfortable out there”, he told reporters yesterday after seeing his first extended playing time of his NFL career. He said that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger “did a great job communicating with me and I did the same with him, and the other receivers were always just making sure we were all on the same page”.
It took Washington quite a while to even see the field for the first time in the first game, but he started on Sunday, and Roethlisberger immediately threw the ball to him on a planned deep passing target. The ball was overthrown, but he showed that he was capable of beating his man in isolation.
None of the other passes that came from Roethlisberger other than a 14-yard touchdown pass were catchable. Some of that was inaccuracy, but chemistry also played a role. That will come with time as Washington continues to get more work.
Which clearly seems to be the plan. Even assuming that Hunter had to be a healthy scratch just because of the way the roster is sorted out, the Steelers would not have played him for the vast majority of the game, instead making greater use of the other receivers on the roster.
No, the Steelers have already made the decision that Washington is the number three receiver, now, behind Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. This is just the beginning of what they intend to be a lengthy and accomplished career.