When the Pittsburgh Steelers made the decision to trade Antonio Brown, they understood that they were making a move that offered no one-for-one rectification. Replacing what Brown brought to the offense was never going to be a simple process of plugging in one player and excepting him to duplicate what the perennial All-Pro brings to the table.
So now they have a number of options available to them, with James Washington heading into his second season, Donte Moncrief brought in via free agency, and Diontae Johnson coming in through the 2019 NFL Draft.
Johnson has been talked about the most, even though he may be the one to contribute the least this season. Or he might end up being the biggest contributor of that group. Of course, it’s far too early to determine that. But at least through the spring, his work was pretty clearly defined.
When he was asked where he sees himself fitting into the offense, he told reporters, “really, wherever they need me, but right now I’m just getting all my reps outside”. This is what we have previously already heard, that he was getting his reps on the outside rather than in the slot. He played most of his college ball there, though he did both.
“Just trying to take advantage of that”, he said of every rep that he can get his hands on, “and if I get a chance to play inside I’ll learn that as well and try to perfect that. But right now I’m just trying to focus on the X and get everything right”.
As soon as he was drafted, it was obvious that Johnson would be groomed to play the X position, and so far that is just where he is working. But the Steelers ultimately expect all of their wide receivers to be versatile. Even Martavis Bryant took some snaps from the slot. Eli Rogers has played on the outside.
The third-round pick was somewhat limited through parts of the past month, only participating in individual drills through the early portions of OTAs, but he got more and more work in team drills as time went on as well, and should hopefully get off to a running start in training camp.
Until then, however, he plans to head back home for a couple of weeks before returning to Pittsburgh, where his goal will be to “try to keep my face around the coaches, try to let them now that I’m here, I’m ready to work and get things going, show them that I’m ready to contribute to the offense”.
As the least experienced player in the group, Johnson will have to fight and claw for every opportunity that he gets in a game until he proves in the situations that are given to him that he can be trusted, and that is going to be primarily up to Ben Roethlisberger. They seem to have a good relationship so far, so it’s about continuing to grow it from this point forward.