The Pittsburgh Steelers spent a second-round draft pick last year on wide receiver James Washington and the Oklahoma State product went on to have a very disappointing rookie season as he only caught 16 passes for 217 yards and a touchdown and was even inactive for two of the team’s 16 regular season games. With the start of the 2019 NFL league year now on the immediate horizon, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert was asked Wednesday during his annual scouting combine press conference in Indianapolis to give his impression on Washington’s 2018 rookie season.
“James had a rough start,” Colbert said. “I mean, it was disappointing because he was dropping balls that he didn’t drop in college. James had I believe 35 touchdowns at Oklahoma State when he played with Mason Rudolph and was a very productive player, but he also went through an adjustment and learning of the NFL game and he fought through it week after week. He had the big drop at Denver, where he probably should have just run through the ball. He probably would have scored. But his confidence after that game grew to where he was a contributor down the stretch. So, not uncommon for rookie players to go through that, but we had no question about James Washington’s ability to catch the football and now he’s starting to show that.”
After that big drop in the Steelers Week 12 road loss to the Denver Broncos, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger publicly reprimanded his young wide receiver during his weekly radio show interview that following Tuesday and many wondered if he should have done that. Roethlisberger, however, later clarified and justified his decision to somewhat call out Washington and how the conversation with the young wide receiver that ultimately took place behind closed doors went and how it was received.
“It was nothing more than me challenging him to be ready to go and he had a great week of practice [last week],” Roethlisberger said. “Him and I had a great talk on Saturday morning after the week and there was no hard feelings at all, which I didn’t think there would be. There’s a right and a wrong way to kind of challenge guys sometimes and I felt like I did that, and I feel like there’s no negative, no negativity came from it.”
That same week, Washington also described how that conversation with Roethlisberger had gone.
“You know, he kinda came in the receiver room and talked to me one on one, which I really needed that because he gave me a lot of advice,” Washington said of Roethlisberger’s talk with him. “And you know, for him to come in and sit me down and talk to me just kind of helped me get over this hump and get back on track.”
While Washington was ultimately inactive for the Steelers Week 13 home game against the Los Angeles Chargers, he went on to dress and play in the team’s final four regular season games. He caught 8 passes for 140 yards in those four contests and even had a long reception of 47 yards in the regular season home finale against the Cincinnati Bengals. In short, and like Colbert said on Wednesday, he seemingly got back on track after that extremely disappointing showing against the Broncos.
In 2019, Washington will likely be asked to take a huge step forward for the Steelers and especially if fellow wide receiver Antonio Brown is ultimately traded in the coming weeks and months. Listening to Colbert talk about Washington on Wednesday at the combine, he didn’t sound like he lacks faith in the young wide receiver being able to do just that.