The Pittsburgh Steelers well underway with the offseason workouts at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, also referred to as the South Side Facility. We are already into the heart of the offseason, where hope springs eternal following a few months of pretty significant changes, in terms of both departures and arrivals.
How are the rookies performing? What about the players that the team signed in free agency? Who is missing time with injuries, and when are they going to be back? What are the coaches saying about what they are going to do this season that might be different from how it was a year ago?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: How quickly will rookie Diontae Johnson start to make a real impact for the Steelers?
The Steelers have a big question the answer for their offense in 2019: who is going to fill the void left by Antonio Brown? They also have many possibilities, or pieces of answers, with 2019 rookie third-round draft pick Diontae Johnson being one of them.
Though obviously not jumping the gun, Johnson’s college profile bears a lot of resemblances to Brown. He is not at the same skill level, but he has a similar skill set, including a knack for creating separation, both at the line of scrimmage and within the route.
But he is also the least experienced of the options the Steelers have available to them, and he dealt with a minor hamstring injury that limited him for a few weeks this spring on top of that. The Steelers signed Donte Moncrief in free agency in case they had to fall back on a veteran with experience.
But there is also James Washington, a second-round pick a year ago. Though he had a disappointing rookie season, albeit with a positive upswing in the final month, there are still big expectations for him within the organization, and many believe he will be given the chance to lose the number two role.
Vance McDonald has described Johnson as something like a wildcard in how he has been used at OTAs so far, checking in for a play or two here and there, which is how his NFL career may start. It’s pretty common, really, for rookies on teams who are not desperate at the position.
But the Steelers haven’t shown hesitation in playing rookies in the past, and sometimes whether they have earned it or not. Washington didn’t really earn the amount of playing time he got last year. JuJu Smith-Schuster the year before that did. How will their stories, and those of others, shape Johnson’s opportunities to make an impact, and the timeline in which he does it?