The Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 OTA practices came to an end on Thursday and after the session rookie wide receiver Diontae Johnson, the team’s first of two third-round draft picks this year, spoke to media about the progress he’s made the last three weeks
First, Johnson was asked about what it was like this week getting to work in some situations with starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and interacting more with him than he did in the previous two weeks of OTA practices.
“It’s different,” Johnson said, according to video on steelers.com. “Just being able to show him I can be consistent and he can rely on me and I can show him that I can retain information. And just trying to get that connection down with Ben. It’s crazy to me. So, it was just a big moment for me because I used to watch him growing up and now I’m here with him. So, it’s, like, different.”
Johnson was evidently spotted talking more with Roethlisberger during practices this week than in the two previous weeks and the young wide receiver out of Toledo was asked if those one-on-one moments were helpful to him.
“Yeah, if I had like a question, or whatnot, he would just tell me what I need to do or whatnot,” Johnson said. “Like how to adjust to certain things and stuff like that.”
Later during his Thursday media session, Johnson was asked about it looking like Roethlisberger was in his ear quite a bit during a particular end zone drill this past week.
“Yeah. like I said, little details like planting, how many yards he wants me to break and he’s just testing me right now to see like how I adjust to the ball and stuff like that,” Johnson said.
So, does Johnson feel like he passed the tests this week from Roethlisberger?
“Yeah, right now. I mean, just I’m still going so there’s more room for improvement every day,” Johnson said. “So, that’s what I’m doing. Get in the playbook, just come out and execute.”
Johnson also admitted after Thursday’s OTA practice that he was allowed to participate more this week in the 11-on-11 portion of practices than he had during the previous two weeks.
“Yeah, because I’m starting to get more comfortable, like I said before, and getting the playbook now and it’s just playing smoother,” Johnson said.
Johnson did indicate, however, that those 11-on-11 reps he received this past week were as a member of either the second or third-team unit.
“I haven’t really gone with the first team these past three days, but sometimes I get in there like a play,” Johnson said. “But I’m just right now focusing on the twos and the threes right now, trying to get my reps down.”
While it sounds like Johnson has made great progress these last three weeks, he made it clear on Thursday that he still has a lot of developing to do. He also made it clear on Thursday that he now knows firsthand that the NFL is a lot different than college.
“I’m still adjusting,” Johnson said. “Just the speed and the conditioning is just totally different from college because everything’s faster. And once you get here, it’s even faster. So, just got to be ready and know what they expect.”
With former Steelers cornerback William Gay now working with the wide receivers after being officially named a 2019 coaching intern for 2019 earlier in the week, Johnson was asked how the longtime NFL defensive back has helped him so far during OTA practices.
“He’s been telling me like how like certain defenses are going to play and like what to expect from a corner, like, what leverages to attack, or whatnot,” Johnson said. “Try to keep everything the same when I’m out there at receiver so they can’t like pick off like certain things I do, if it’s a pass or a run.”
Next up for Johnson and the rest of his Steelers teammates is the annual mandatory minicamp and Johnson was asked what he expects next week during those practices.
“Expecting the same things from me,” Johnson said. “I mean, just trying to get better every day and execute on each day, and like I said, learn the playbook. That’s my main focus.”
Next week during the Steelers mandatory minicamp we’re likely to hear from wide receivers coach Darryl Drake and if so, he’ll likely be asked to give a progress report on Johnson and we’ll be all ears for that. While it does seem that Johnson is on an expected development path through the team’s OTA practices, it’s still hard to imagine him being a starter come Week 1 of the regular season as veteran Donte Moncrief will almost assuredly be the starting X wide receiver opposite JuJu Smith-Schuster right out of the chute.
However, if Johnson’s progress continues on through mandatory minicamp, training camp and the preseason, he should be able to start logging some offensive snaps early on in the season and hopefully start seeing a heavy increase of playing time as the year wears on.
“He’s caught about every ball I’ve thrown to him, so that’s a good sign,” Steelers backup quarterback Mason Rudolph said on Thursday. “He’s just quick. He’s picking up the offense fast. He’s very coachable, and he’s very hungry to learn. That’s good to see in a young guy.”