Remember when Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger ‘called out’ his rookie wide receiver for dropping a big pass against the Denver Broncos? Remember when both teammates and members of the media tried to used that in the offseason to paint him as some kind of demonic force? Remember how they said that Roethlisberger should have pulled him aside and said those things to him in private?
Of course he actually pulled him aside and talked to him in private.
It amazes me that anyone ever actually thought that that private conversation didn’t occur. Chances are nearly everything he says on the radio is something he’s said in private as well. Similar to General Manager Kevin Colbert. After the ‘kid’ comment fiasco, he said that he doesn’t say anything about anybody during an interview that he wouldn’t or hasn’t told that person privately.
Yesterday, that rookie wide receiver recalled that conversation and the influence that it had on him for the remainder of the season. Second-round draft pick James Washington was a disappointment last year, something he fully admits to, but he showed improvement late in the year that he hopes to build on.
“The second half of the season Ben had a talk with me and it really helped me a lot”, he told the team’s website. “It helped me to relax. Playing with Ben…it’s like I’ve watched him since I was a kid and I’ve looked up to him, and now to be on the field with him. Your nerves are high at first and you don’t want to mess up because this guy is going to be a Hall of Fame quarterback”.
Just because he didn’t have the same sort of immediate success that JuJu Smith-Schuster had doesn’t mean that he’s doomed to failure. These may not sound like stellar comparisons in hindsight, but Markus Wheaton and Sammie Coates were pretty inactive as rookies as well. So was Antonio Brown.
“I think my production went up after that talk. I was able to be more relaxed and play the game that I’ve being doing since I was a kid. It was good to have that talk”, Washington said. “He hadn’t given up on me, because in my eyes it had felt like that. When he told me that it was like a second lung. Every day he challenged me. It was like he gave me tough love. He explained things to me. And he kept believing. I appreciated it”.
Funnily enough, these remarks are not dissimilar to ones Brown would have made several years ago, back when his slogan was ‘Chest Up, Eyes Up, Prayed Up’, rather than “Business Is Boomin’”. My, how priorities change.
The priority in Pittsburgh now is figuring out how to replace Brown’s on-field business, and Washington needs to be a big part of that. The fact that he knows he has his quarterback behind him—because he had that conversation with him—will be a comfort as he head into his second season.