Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wide receiver James Washington, the team’s second-round draft pick this year, now has six regular season games under his belt and that’s given his position coach Darryl Drake plenty of time to evaluate the Oklahoma State product. On Wednesday, Drake, who is in his first season with the Steelers, was asked to comment on Washington’s play to date as the team breaks for their annual bye week.
“He’s coming [along] and again, it’s a process for him, too,” Drake said of Washington. “He’s coming, and we’ve got to push him along faster and get him more involved, but when those opportunities come for him, he’s got to be ready, again, to deliver, just like I said with Antonio [Brown].”
Washington hasn’t had too many opportunities to make plays so far through the Steelers first six regular season games as not only has he played a total of just 180 offensive plays that included passes being thrown, he’s only been targeted 13 times in total with quite a few of those being deep throws and he’s yet to catch one of those from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Even though Washington did register a very large amount of deep receptions during his four seasons at Oklahoma State, he also showed he could combative catch anywhere on the field. On Wednesday, Drake was asked if he thinks Washington perhaps entered the NFL as a better combative catcher than a receiver able to get a fair amount of separation deep down the field.
“[He’s] been a combat-catch guy, but you know, in the National Football League, we talk about separation, separation in the National Football League is a step, especially when you have man coverage and things like that,” Drake said. “So, he’s able to do that in a lot of instances. The times that he’s not, it may be a technical flaw or something that he may not have done. But again, it’s a learning process for him and we’re going to continue to push him and help him grow and get to that point. And you know, I still have the utmost confidence and faith in him that he’ll continue to do that.”
On the heels of fellow young Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster being able to take the NFL by storm during his 2017 rookie season and especially during the second half of it where he registered 41 of his of 58 total receptions and 686 of his 917 total yards receiving in the final seven games that he played in, Drake was asked Wednesday if that performance is a good example of how some rookie wide receivers go through a learning curve when they arrive in the NFL.
“There’s no doubt about it,” Drake responded. “And in this game, and in the pro game, we ask them to do so much. They really have to understand the coverages, they have to understand what the safeties are doing, they have to understand the concepts of what we’re asking them to do and they have to be able to make that decision in less than a second. And you know, the thing that I try to get them to do and the thing that we all try to get them to do is not think, react.
“And the game is a reaction game and you’ve got to react in the right way. You’ve got to make sure you’re going right instead of left and that’s just the reaction part of it. And as time goes on they get more and more comfortable, they get more and more of an understanding of what’s happening to them, because those guys on defense, their own scholarship, too. And those defensive coordinators are disguising coverages and doing different things to make you have to think and that’s the thing that, as guys get more experienced, they don’t have to think, they just react.”
As I pointed out in a Wednesday post that contextualized the routes that Washington was asked to run in Sunday’s road win over the Cincinnati Bengals, it was clear that the Steelers coaches weren’t asking their rookie wide receiver to do too terribly much in that contest as far as route variations go. It will now be interesting to see if Drake can indeed push Washington along faster after the team’s bye week and get him contributing quite a bit more on the stat sheet than he did in the team’s first six games.
Thanks to all the receiving weapons the Steelers have on offense this season and regardless of how much faster Drake and the other coaches can push Washington, he still isn’t likely to see a large number of targets in games moving forward past the bye week. That said, it is important that we start seeing him take better advantage of those limited opportunities that he will get and especially when it comes to the deep targets he’s sure to continue receiving.
“And those opportunities will come and, again, we just keep pressing the envelope and keep pushing him forward,” Drake said Wednesday.