One of the most difficult things about being a rookie is simply trying to stay healthy while you’re working just to understand what you’re doing out on the football field. When your head is swimming and you’re overthinking, you can put yourself in positions where you’re more prone to injuries.
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ rookie class so far this year has had its issues dealing with minor injuries, starting with third-round wide receiver Diontae Johnson going all the way back to rookie minicamp. He had to sit out the first preseason game due to injury. And he has dealt with injuries this past week leading into tonight’s game.
“I’ll do what I can, and if I can play, I can play”, he told Brian Batko of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette regarding his status, adding, “we’ll see”. During his pre-game press conference, head coach Mike Tomlin made it clear that he would “leave the light on” for everybody Sunday in terms of availability because of the evaluative importance of the third preseason game, to the point where some players may even work out before the game to determine whether or not they can go.
It would be a key opportunity for Johnson to play tonight in order to get on the field with starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, with whom his work has been sporadic this offseason, largely due to his health.
For the moment, it appears likely that the Steelers’ top four wide receivers during the season opener will be JuJu Smith-Schuster, Donte Moncrief, James Washington, and Eli Rogers, who has been consistently working in the slot when the first-team offense has been on the field.
Especially if he continues to miss practice time with minor ailments, it’s entirely possible that Johnson even spends some time this year on the inactive list, because the sixth wide receiver at this point is likely to be a return man, who would have to dress, and they rarely have six wide receivers active.
But he still has two games to work his way into the mix as early as possible, and he intends to do so. He did show well in his preseason debut last time around. On his goals for the third game, if he plays, he said he’s looking forward to “just getting in the rotation and making plays for [Roethlisberger] once my number gets called and whatnot”.
Earlier in the week, Roethlisberger said that he was hoping to see the wide receivers coming in and out of the game because that’s what he wants to see during the regular season. He believes they have a very talented group of wide outs this year to the point where they can all keep each other fresh.