As the Pittsburgh Steelers seek to find comfort at the wide receiver position following a fairly significant turnover from last season, the team’s new faces in that group are also finding comfort, not just within the offense, but within the team. Donte Moncrief has been around the league before, but the young receivers, Diontae Johnson and James Washington, are still getting their feet wet.
The Steelers are particularly hoping for a big step forward from Washington this season following a very disappointing rookie year in 2018. The former second-round pick is in the mix to work alongside JuJu Smith-Schuster as one of the two primary receivers this year along with the others mentioned following Antonio Brown’s trade, and part of that is building relationships.
No single relationship is more important in the passing game than that between the quarterback and the wide receiver, and sometimes it can be intimidating for a young wideout to step in with an accomplished veteran quarterback such as Ben Roethlisberger.
Washington, the mild-mannered, soft-spoken country boy, admitted to having a bit of a difficult time seeing Roethlisberger as just a teammate, though that’s not uncommon for young players coming into the league who would have literally grown up watching him win Super Bowls.
After practice today, he told Aditi Kinkhabwala that the trip down to Georgia with his quarterback, with most of the team’s skill position players in attendance, was an important step in building that relationship with Roethlisberger.
“He used to be ‘the Hall of Fame QB’”, he said to the NFL Network reporter. That started to change as he was able to get to know him more on a personal level. “Our night conversations on the patio made him seem more human, like us”, he added. “I feel a lot more comfortable being around him”.
#Steelers 2nd year WR James Washington said spending three days in Georgia w/ QB Ben Roethlisberger changed everything: “He used to be the ‘Hall of Fame QB.’ Our night conversations on the patio made him seem more human, like us… I feel a lot more comfortable being around him.”
— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) July 26, 2019
As a rookie, Washington logged a lot of snaps as the team’s primary number three receiver, even though he was benched a couple of times during the year and his playing time varied as they grew frustrated with his struggled.
In all, he was targeted 38 times, catching only 16 passes (just over 42 percent) for 217 yards and one touchdown, which came back in Week Two on what was a broken play, Roethlisberger scrambling and tossing Washington the ball as he nearly crossed the line of scrimmage.
He figures to start this season as either the number two or three receiver along with Moncrief, the veteran, who opened training camp today working with Smith-Schuster on the first-team group with Roethlisberger, but others were mixed in as well, including the rookie Johnson.
The Steelers know that Washington has a lot of talent, and they feel that he began to show that late in the year when he was able to make a couple of big plays, including a 47-yard grab in the season finale. It’s about unlocking that potential this summer.