It’s unfortunate yet true that one of the biggest storylines to come out of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2019 season was the fact that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said that rookie wide receiver James Washington should have caught a pass that he, in fact, should have caught. That line, more than any other word or action, served as the drum beat for condemning the 15-year veteran and his inability to lead his teammates.
Yet those doing the condemning never really bothered to ask Washington what he thought about it. And in fact he has commented on it several times, probably to the point by now that he is more annoyed by being asked about it than he ever was about it actually happening.
Naturally, with OTAs now underway, the second-year wide receiver was asked to go through it all one more time. He admitted that Roethlisberger’s remark—and the long private conversation that followed between the two, “was hard coaching”.
“But I’ve been coached hard my entire life, so it really wasn’t nothing new to me”, he added. “It helped me get back on track a little bit and back where I needed to be”.
Up through that point during his rookie year, Washington had logged quite a bit of snaps, but he only caught eight of 25 targets sent his way for 77 yards, as well as one touchdown, which came on a busted play that was even disputed.
In the final four games of the season, he caught another eight passes, this time on a more healthy 13 targets, and produced 140 yards of offense for his efforts. That included a couple of explosive plays during the final few games, which is what everyone had been waiting on him to produce.
As Washington enters his second season, he is preparing for what could potentially be a bigger role. The reality is that he already served as a starter for most of his rookie season, logging the third-most snaps at the wide receiver position behind the two starters.
Between himself, free agent signing Donte Moncrief, and perhaps rookie third-round pick Diontae Johnson, the Steelers will have options to figure out whom among them they believe will be the best option to serve as their primary number two wide receiver.
It’s entirely possible, if not probable, that the ultimately answer for the 2019 season at least will consist of a mish-mash of all three options, plus a sprinkling in of Eli Rogers and Ryan Switzer for good measure as well.
But if they could get Smith-Schuster, Washington, and Johnson as their top three receivers—the three receivers they have taken with day-two picks in the past three drafts—as soon as possible, I’m pretty sure the Steelers would be rather excited about that.