After missing the team’s preseason opener last Friday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers due to a groin injury, all signs currently point toward Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wide receiver Diontae Johnson making his preseason debut Saturday night in the game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Johnson, who has since returned to practice since missing the Friday night game, will likely see considerable playing time against the Chiefs if willing, healthy and able.
During his Thursday press conference to preview the Steelers upcoming preseason game against the Chiefs, head coach Mike Tomlin was asked to comment on where Johnson currently is in his development and if he’s seen enough yet out of the third-round draft pick this year out of Toledo to get a good feel for what all he can do.
“No,” Tomlin said quickly. And that response was just as quickly followed up with him being asked if Johnson needs to be out on the practice field more.
“And he was yesterday, and he will be today,” Tomlin said. “And so, for a lot of young guys, particularly that are battling nagging injuries, you know, it slows their growth and development. It slows us to get an opportunity to get to know them, but not anything unusual about that.”
While Johnson did seemingly have a great set of earlier offseason practices over the summer in shorts, he’s missed several days of training camp practice due to minor injuries since the team arrived at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe. It was very disappointing to see him have to sit out the preseason opener last Friday night and hopefully that groin has healed enough now that he can make his debut Saturday night at Heinz Field.
As things stand right now, Johnson isn’t likely to make any huge offensive contributions early in his rookie season. At the very least, he isn’t likely at this point to see a lot of offensive snaps in the team’s first few regular season games. Additionally, if Johnson fails to make huge strides in the next three weeks, he might just ultimately wind up on the team’s Week 1 inactive list for the opener against the New England Patriots should the team decide to keep six wide receivers in total on their 53-man roster and dress just five of them. Obviously, a lot can happen in the next three weeks, however.
Johnson has some kickoff return experience on his college resume and thus it will be interesting to see if he’s given an opportunity to return a few Saturday night against the Chiefs. Additionally, it will be interesting to see if he gets any other playing time on any of the other special teams units Saturday night.
Tomlin made it clear on Thursday that the quickly approaching game against the Chiefs will be an important one for several players and especially the younger ones such as Johnson that missed the preseason opener due to injuries.
“We’re excited about this second opportunity and I think the key element of that is opportunity,” Tomlin said Thursday during his press conference. “Opportunities are starting to get scarce as we come to the conclusion of camp and start to continually step into stadiums. The sand is running through the hourglass, guys are losing opportunities to state a case for themselves. So there’s a certain urgency.”
Assuming he plays Saturday night against the Chiefs, we’ll make sure to post a film study of his play early next week. hopefully we’ll have a lot of positive tape to pass along to everyone in that post.