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Steelers OC Fichtner Not Worried About WR Washington Having Repeat Of Rookie Season

Pittsburgh Steelers second-year wide receiver James Washington is having a great 2019 preseason so far as the team’s 2018 second-round draft pick out Oklahoma State has already registered 8 receptions for 152 yards and a touchdown in the team’s first two exhibition games. Two of those eight catches were deep down the field as well and resulted in gains of 43 and 40 yards, respectively.

Washington’s strong 2019 preseason start is indeed great; however, we’ve already seen him play well in preseason action once as he caught seven passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns in three exhibition games as a rookie. Unfortunately for him, Washington couldn’t carry over his rookie preseason momentum into the 2018 regular season.

During a recent interview with Missi Matthews of steelers.com, Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner was asked what it is that he would probably tell people that might be worried about Washington possibly having a second consecutive disappointing regular season in 2019 after having a second consecutive strong showing during the preseason.

“Well. I would say this, I’ve seen it developing, I’ve seen a better conditioned athlete, a much more knowledgeable player at his position now,” Fichtner said. “I don’t see the angst of maybe not knowing, or cutting it loose, because you’re not sure. He’s very sure right now. He’s very confident in what he’s doing, and we have a lot of confidence in him.”

Fellow Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster also isn’t worried about Washington possibly following up another strong preseason with a disappointing regular season. During his Wednesday morning media session, Smith-Schuster was asked to disclose what he’s seeing out of Washington so far this year as opposed to teammate’s’ rookie season.

“Oh man, huge difference, huge change,” Smith-Schuster said. “He’s increased. As you guys can see during preseason, he’s making plays left and right. Like I said, there’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll be doing that during the season. I’m super excited to watch him.”

Washington reportedly dropped around 15 pounds during the offseason in hopes that in doing so he would become quicker and faster. While it’s hard to tell exactly if his expected results of the weight loss have been achieved through two preseason games, he certainly appears to be a much more confident player and not having to think as much when he’s been on the field.

While Washington’s rookie season was a disappointment with him only registering just 16 catches for 217 yards and a touchdown, eight of those receptions and 140 of those receiving yards came in the team’s final four regular season games. That showing to close out the final quarter of his rookie season served as a possible sign that Washington would be fine moving forward into his NFL career in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers will have yet another rookie wide receiver on their 2019 team in the form of Toledo product Diontae Johnson, who was the team’s first of two third-round draft picks this year. With Washington’s not too far removed from his own rookie season he was asked on Wednesday after practice if he has any advice for Johnson ahead of his first NFL regular season getting underway.

“Just stay positive and don’t let things get you down,” Washington said, according to 93.7 The Fan. “You’ve just got to stay positive and trust in yourself.”

The Steelers next preseason game will take place on the road Sunday night against the Tennessee Titans and that contest will include the first exhibition action of 2019 for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Washington made it clear on Wednesday that he knows how important Sunday’s game is in terms of getting the entire first-team offense some quality playing time together.

“It’s real important for us to get that chemistry down and just get everybody on the same page, ready to go,” Washington said.

Washington also said Wednesday that he thinks he’s even more ready than last season when it comes to him better knowing the minute details such as presnap hand signals and checks from Roethlisberger.

“I feel like I’ve grown on it, just from like mistakes over last year and just studying him giving signals to other guys,” Washington said. “So, I feel like we’re ready to go.”

We’ll now wait and see if Washington is indeed ready to go and if he can close out the 2019 preseason with a few more strong showings and then carry that momentum over into the start of the regular season. The Steelers certainly need him to as he’s poised to see a lot of playing time right out of the chute in personnel groupings that include three or more wide receivers being on the field. Washington is expected to primarily play the Z wide receiver position in the Steelers offense throughout his second season in Pittsburgh.

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