The Pittsburgh Steelers spent the entire often downplaying the development of rookie second-round pick James Washington, the wide receiver out of Oklahoma State who consistently put up impressive numbers at the collegiate level. It seemed as though they were trying to temper enthusiasm and manage expectations.
But then it got to the point at which he wasn’t even in the gameplan for the team’s opening game. Not only was he not in the gameplan, he was not even among the top four wide receivers. Newcomer Ryan Switzer, acquired just weeks ago as a second-year player who contributed very sparsely on offense for the Dallas Cowboys, actually got on the field on offense for several snaps.
Washington, in spite of the fact that he was active, but did not appear to play even a single snap on the offensive side of the ball, even though he did see some time on special teams. The fact that he dressed yet only was on the field for 14 offensive snaps suggests that he would have been a healthy scratch had Vance McDonald not been ruled out with a foot injury.
The intention all offseason seemed to be that the team would bring him along slowly but surely in time for the start of the regular season, but by the time the season opened, it was sixth-year veteran Justin Hunter, now in his second season with the Steelers, opening the game in that number three role.
The question is whether or not the oblique injury that Washington suffered during the third preseason game, and which appeared to sideline him for the remainder of the preseason and corresponding practice, was the reason that Hunter played over him.
Did they simply feel that he missed too much practice time over the past month to be able to feel comfortable with him making extended contributions on offense right now? Or did they simply believe that Hunter offers them more right now?
The fact that they were willing and able to get Switzer involved after just two weeks—a player who himself is just in his second season and, again, did not contribute much on offense as a rookie—suggests that it may have been more than the injury itself.
So how long is it going to take Washington to climb the depth chart and actually start earning playing time on offense? Last year’s rookie second-round pick, JuJu Smith-Schuster, played in the season opener, though he was not targeted. He rotated with Eli Rogers as the slot receiver. Washington was not rotated in at all.
Today begins a new week, which is accompanied by a new gameplan for a new opponent. The Steelers host the Kansas City Chiefs. Is Washington going to get playing time in that game? Or will he even dress, assuming McDonald makes it back?