It won’t be long now before the Pittsburgh Steelers begin rolling into Latrobe, PA to make Saint Vincent College their home away from home for several weeks as the summer winds down. That is when we know that training camp has begun, and with it the first deep breaths of the 2019 NFL season.
Everything that we have experienced up until now, from the re-signings, releases, and trades to the draft and all the way through OTAs and minicamp, has been but a preview, the setup, for what is to come next.
And so we too continue to preview what comes next in a series in which we will highlight several of the battles for roster spots and roles that we expect to see during our time observing in training camp and throughout the preseason.
Position: Wide Receiver
Up for Grabs: Starting Job (No. 2)
In the Mix: Donte Moncrief, James Washington, Diontae Johnson
After the Steelers traded Antonio Brown, it immediately created a void in their starting lineup. JuJu Smith-Schuster would obviously ascend to the number one receiver role, but there was no obvious candidate who was unquestioned as capable of being the number two. So the team went out and got themselves some options.
Ideally, the presumption is, they would like to see second-year former second-round pick James Washington be that number two guy. He had a disappointing rookie year, but he has talked about his physical and mental growth and the lessons learned since then.
Moncrief has been in the league for five years and has more accumulated receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns than anybody else on the roster. But he’s also on his third team, and has never put up more than middling numbers. Can he take that next step with Ben Roethlisberger? He’s not exactly an old man. He’s actually 25, younger than Eli Rogers, Diontae Spencer, and Tevin Jones, as well as Johnny Holton.
The final contestant for the number two role is a longshot because he’s a rookie and wasn’t really used in that manner through the spring, but Diontae Johnson is a guy that the team likes a lot. It wouldn’t be absurd if he emerges over the course of training camp and takes the job. It would be even less surprising if he overtakes that role over the course of the year.
The Steelers have a few battles headed for training camp that figure to be highly competitive, in a good way, and fun to watch. The number two wide receiver role is definitely one of them. Nobody is going to come in and replace Antonio Brown.
But at least on paper, they’ve done a good job of compiling some legitimate weapons to spread the ball around to. The truth is that there may not be a formal number two receiver on this team, a group effort instead replacing the production lost.