While Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wide receiver James Washington probably hasn’t lived up to the statistical expectations of most people through the team’s first six regular season games, it doesn’t sound like quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been disappointed with what he’s seen so far out of this year’s second-round draft pick out of Oklahoma State.
During his weekly Tuesday interview on 93.7 The Fan, Roethlisberger was asked about Washington and specifically about how is learning process is going to date and if he’s likely to start getting a little more involved in the offense moving forward into the season.
“Well, I think he’s doing well,” Roethlisberger said of Washington, who has caught just 5 passes for 49 yards and a touchdown so far this season. “I thought he took some really big steps early [in the season] which earned him some playing time, which got him in the game and [he] made some plays for us. And what he needs to make sure of is that he continues to get better and the game doesn’t overwhelm him that the game doesn’t get too big for him, that he continues to make plays, he doesn’t get frustrated, things like that.”
While Roethlisberger and several Steelers coaches have all spoken favorably of Washington over the course of the last few weeks, it’s still worth pointing out that the rookie wide receiver only played 16 total offensive snaps in the team’s Week 6 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. That was not only the fewest amount of snaps that Washington has played since Week 1, but also only two more than veteran wide receiver Justin Hunter played in that contest.
In fact, not only was Hunter on the field in place of Washington for what ultimately turned out to be the Steelers game-winning touchdown-scoring drive late in the fourth quarter against the Bengals, he was also on the field in place of the rookie to close out the previous offensive possession that culminated in a red zone stall and field goal.
To hear Roethlisberger talk on Tuesday, Hunter will continue to have somewhat of a limited role in the offense moving forward past the team’s bye week and those snaps will likely come at the expense of Washington.
“So, we’ll continue to use him [Washington],” Roethlisberger said. “I think we need to sprinkle in Justin Hunter a little bit because he is a guy that’s been around, that can make plays for us. So, I think the smart and prudent thing to do is to continue to use both guys and let the cream rise to the top, if you will.”
What’s also interesting about Roethlisberger’s comments about Hunter is that if the veteran wide receiver suits up for games moving forward, it could result in fellow veteran wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey being inactive. The last several weeks that hasn’t been a big deal because Heyward-Bey has been sidelined with an ankle injury. Once Heyward-Bey is back fully healthy again, however, it will be interesting to see if he starts dressing over Hunter once again as he’s certainly the better special teams contributor of the two.