It’s not always fun being a rookie. It wasn’t even all roses and sunshine for JuJu Smith-Schuster last year, who wasn’t even targeted in his first game, and missed two due to injury and suspension. T.J. Watt had an interception and two sacks in week one, but things slowed down after that.
So there is nothing surprising about the fact that Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wide receiver James Washington comes into the team’s week six bye without having established himself as a regular and productive contributor to the offense. After going from playing about two thirds of the team’s snaps over a span of four weeks, his playing time was trimmed down to about one fifth on Sunday.
The Oklahoma State product admits that he very much is still learning, and more importantly, thinking, and things are coming along slowly. The good news is that the offense is not relying upon him, as there are already five players with 250 or more receiving yards.
“Just being a rookie, you get out there, you’re thinking a lot”, he admitted to Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “There’s a lot going through your mind. You’re trying to be perfect, but you’re not yet. You still have a lot to learn. Just working with the older guys and getting their advice that helps me get through this time”.
Washington hasn’t caught a pass in three weeks, when he caught two for a blistering 10 yards against the Baltimore Ravens on four targets. He has been held without a catch over the course of the past two games, though he has only been targeted three times.
He has five receptions so far on the season for 49 yards, the first being his longest to date, a 14-yard touchdown that came on a busted play. He has been targeted a total of 14 times, with a horrible catch rate of 35.7 percent, but that really is more on Ben Roethlisberger’s delivery than on him. He hasn’t dropped any passes.
Still, Washington looks as though he is going to spend a bit more time sitting on the shelf unless he gets himself right over the course of the bye week, playing just 16 snaps on Sunday. The team and offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner doesn’t seem to be shy about making more use of Jesse James, Vance McDonald and James Conner—even Xavier Grimble—in the passing game behind Antonio Brown and Smith-Schuster.
“It just takes time”, the rookie said of the process of becoming a trusted and effective contributor in an offense at this level. “It’s not going to happen overnight. You just have to keep coming to practice and try to get better and just take coaching. It’s hard at times, but you have to be available”.
The good thing is that he has the right attitude. Smith-Schuster and Watt had the right attitude last year and it helped them as rookies. Conner did, too, and look what he is doing now. As Washington said, it just takes time, but for those with the talent, patience, and composure, it will come.