The positive progress reports on Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson continue to pour in with the team’s annual mandatory minicamp now underway. Not too long after quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said that his rookie wide receiver has been “impressive” so far during offseeason practices, Steelers veteran cornerback Joe Haden also heaped praise on the Toledo product, who was selected in the third-round of this year’s draft.
“For me the receiver, No. 18 (Diontae Johnson),” Haden said when asked Tuesday which player has stood out the most to so far during the offseason practices, per Teresa Varley of steelers.com. “He runs some really, really crisp routes. He is natural. He is fast. He comes out of his breaks really well. He has been impressive. I watch receivers. I watch tape on them. He is a good one.”
Like Roethlisberger, Haden’s Tuesday comments on Johnson seem sincere and not just early offseason hyperbole just because he is a teammate.
All this continued early offseason praise for Johnson aside, the rookie wide receiver probably still has a lot to learn and prove between now and the start of the regular season and Steelers wide receivers coach Darryl Drake said as much when talking about his position group with the media on Tuesday.
“You know, we still got a long ways to go, but like we say each and every day, if we just get a little bit better and a little bit better and a little bit better, a little bit better, you know, that’s what it’s all about,” Drake said. “And guys are working. It’s a process and so far I’m pleased with the process, the work that they’re putting in and retaining. Because we’re throwing it all at them to see who can handle it, what will stick and what won’t stick. And, you know, as a coach, all you can ask for is the guys to give you everything they’ve got. And these guys, you know, have the mindset to do that. So, as far as that’s concerned, I’ve been pleased with that.”
After the dust settles Thursday afternoon, the Steelers will then have the next five weeks off to prepare for training camp getting underway in Latrobe. Once the team takes the fields at Saint Vincent College in late July, younger players such as Johnson will need to show that they can play a lot faster and without having to think much in the process. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin emphasized as much on Tuesday during his press conference to close out the team’s first mandatory minicamp practice of 2019.
“We’re just out here working, man, learning what to do, gaining some detail, regardless of our positions, so that we can put ourselves in position to play fast when we get to Latrobe,” Tomlin said. “Playing fast is the only way that you’re going to make plays in that setting when we’re playing real football. So that’s what our focus is at this point.”
Sure, it’s only mandatory minicamp and thus praise for young players needs to be absorbed with some caution. After all, football in pads in Latrobe is a lot different than football in shorts at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. Regardless of how you choose to interpret what all is being said currently about the progress being made by Johnson so far this offseason, the comments made Tuesday by both Roethlisberger and Haden show that the rookie wide receiver can potentially help at least partially fill the void created when wide receiver Antonio Brown was traded away in March sooner rather than later. At this time of the offseason, I’ll certainly take that.