The Pittsburgh Steelers are out of Latrobe and back at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, also referred to as the South Side Facility. We are already into the regular season, where everything is magnified and, you know, actually counts. The team is working through the highs and lows and dramas that go through a typical Steelers season.
How are the rookies performing? What about the players that the team signed in free agency? Who is missing time with injuries, and when are they going to be back? What are the coaches saying about what they are going to do this season that might be different from how it was a year ago?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: Will James Washington immediately play a bigger role in the offense coming out of the bye week?
The Steelers knew that they needed to add talent at wide receiver once they were resolved to trading Martavis Bryant thanks to the Raiders’ offer of a third-round pick, so they moved to add James Washington in the second round of the draft.
That was not necessarily with a mind toward him immediately assuming the number three role in the offense, even if it was a possibility, but rather for more long-term aspirations. The team already knew that they had their top two wide receivers in place, and for some reason hold some fondness for Justin Hunter.
Yet Washington was the primary number three from the second game of the year through the fifth before his snaps were curtailed in the final game before the bye week. He has been rarely targeted—just 14 times in all—and hasn’t caught a pass in two games.
More telling is the lack of diversity with which he is used. The Steelers have not yet trusted him, or perhaps he is yet to trust himself in his own knowledge of the offense, but we often see such changes come during bye weeks.
Washington has already logged a lot of snaps, so the question is not how much he will play. it is rather how much he will contribute. To date, he has never caught more than two passes in a single game—just five in total on the season—with 25 yards serving as a career-high.
Many with the team have spoken over the course of the bye week about needing to push the rookie to get him to contribute more. It should be expected for that to happen at some point during the second half of the season. The question is how soon. Right out of the gate, or gradually?