In the Pittsburgh Steelers regular season opener against the Cleveland Browns, rookie wide receiver James Washington only played 11 total offensive snaps. Not only did Washington barely see the field on offense against the Browns, he wasn’t even targeted during the game.
Because of that low snap count and lack of usage on offense against the Browns, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was asked to explain during his Wednesday session with the media what it’s like for a rookie wide receiver to have learn the NFL game and a new offense “on the go.”
“If you think about it, they need to learn the offense, right? Then they need to learn all the extra hand signals, then they need to learn the no huddle stuff. So, there’s a lot to learn,” Roethlisberger said. “You ask guys to do a lot of things and we had JuJu [Smith-Schuster] do a lot [during his rookie season] because we moved him around and made him, or asked him, to play multiple positions.
“I think it’s hard enough just to learn one position. So, but James, if that’s what you’re speaking of, is getting it. He’s learning and when I test him out there on the field, he gets it and he understands it. So now it’s just translating that to on-the-field-type stuff.”
So, does this mean that Washington’s now very close to making more of an impact on offense? Roethlisberger wouldn’t give a definitive answer to a similar type question on Wednesday but he did hint that this year’s second-round draft pick out of Oklahoma State might not have been a heavy part of the team’s Week 1 game plan due to an abdominal strain that he suffered during the third preseason game that resulted in him sitting out the fourth and final exhibition contest against the Carolina Panthers.
“I hope so,” Roethlisberger said. “We got them in there a little bit this last week, but he’s got to go out there and last week he was a little banged up. So, hopefully he’s better and can get some more reps in practice.”
It’s kind of humorous that Roethlisberger mentioned Washington being “a little banged up last week” because Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was asked during his Tuesday press conference if the abdominal injury the rookie wide receiver had been dealing with in any way resulted in him being limited at any point during last week’s practices and he said that he wasn’t.
“No, not last week,” Tomlin said.
Tomlin, as we previously reported on Tuesday, did say that Washington just needs “to keep working” when asked what the wide receiver needs to do moving forward to warrant him getting on the field more.
“You know, he’s a young guy. He’s made some plays in preseason football, he’s made some plays in a training camp-like setting, he played some on Sunday. That will continue,” Tomlin said. “It’s just a natural maturation process or development that all players go through. What happened for him Sunday is no reflection of the trajectory of his career, whether it was positive or negative.
“I think it’s important that young guys just wipe the slate clean and clock in and come to work each and every day and don’t overanalyze the here and the now because the reality is, in the big scheme of things, he’s been here a very short period of time. I know it seems like he’s been here a long time for him, he just needs to keep coming to work as does all the others.”
Roethlisberger mentioned Wednesday how second-year wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was used a lot early in his rookie 2017 season and if you look back at his Week 1 snap counts from last year, you’ll see that while he did play 25 total offensive snaps against the Browns, like Washington this past Sunday, he also wasn’t targeted.
In the Steelers second regular season game of 2017 against the Minnesota Vikings, however, Smith-Schuster played 51% of all offensive snaps on his way to registering 3 receptions for 16 yards and a touchdown. Moving forward from that game, Smith-Schuster’s playing time increased dramatically.
In summation, assuming Washington’s no longer slowed during this week’s practices by an injury, there’s probably a decent chance he plays around 50% of all offensive snaps Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs. However, if his total offensive snap count this Sunday remains in the teens, Tomlin and Roethlisberger both better ready themselves for more questions about Washington and his seemingly slow development.