Maybe it was the product of high expectations, a year removed from JuJu Smith-Schuster’s sensational rookie year. Or just the natural struggles most receivers have entering the league. Define it however you want but clearly, James Washington wants to take a major step forward from how he played in 2018. And he’s the first to admit it.
Sitting down with Steelers.com’s Missi Matthews, Washington summed up a rocky rookie year.
“Not what I expected,” Washington said when asked to define 2018. “But I learned a lot. I can say coming back next year, I’ve built a foundation. And now I can build off of that.”
Impressive showings at Latrobe and the preseason didn’t translate to the regular season. Though he caught his first touchdown in Week Two, on his first pass no less, he caught just ten passes for 88 yards over his first 11 games. The lowlight coming against Denver, dropping what should’ve been a long reception, and getting deactivated the next week – a loss – against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Though most rookies are told how much faster the NFL game is, it’s hard to understand until it’s experience first-hand. For Washington, that still was one of the toughest transitions.
“Just the speed of the game. It was a lot faster than what I expected.”
He did end the season much better than how he started. He made two long receptions against the New England Patriots, finishing the day with three grabs for 65 yards followed by a similar performance against the Cincinnati Bengals. That included a 47 yard catch on the same concept, an out ‘n up, that he dropped in the Broncos game.
Washington briefly reflected on what that moment meant.
“I guess it just shows growth.”
Pittsburgh will hope for even more growth and improvement in 2019. Mike Tomlin’s made it clear where his expectation level is at.
“We expect a big jump,” he said during the owners meetings last month. “We expect it to be revealed to us initially just in the level of conditioning that he shows up in as he starts the offseason.”