Whether it has a lot to do with the change that the quarterback position or not, the offense on Sunday for the Pittsburgh Steelers saw a major shift from Donte Moncrief and Ryan Switzer functioning as the number two and three receivers, respectively, to those roles turning to rookie Diontae Johnson and second-year wide receiver James Washington.
While there are still kinks to work out with both of those two young players, it’s not as though the play of the more veteran names ahead of them was exactly setting the world on fire. I’m not entirely sure if they even have a combined 25 yards on the season.
It’s fair to wonder about the role of Mason Rudolph in all this, though, since he would have spent as much or more time working with them as the number two and three quarterback this offseason and into training camp and the preseason.
As for Johnson, who told reporters at the end of the week that he expected to be starting “from here on out” after being drafted 66th overall in April, he caught his first touchdown on Sunday from Rudolph on a long throw for a 39-yard score.
“I’m comfortable with Mason”, he said in the locker room yesterday. “I’m comfortable with Ben, but it takes time with everything, so I’m just taking each day at a time and just picking Mason’s brain and seeing what he’s looking at out there. I’m trying to enhance my game by asking him as many questions as I can”.
Both of them are young players still feeling their way around the NFL, with Rudolph having been a third-round pick in 2018, Johnson a third-round pick this year. Johnson actually made his NFL debut before Rudolph did, since his first game action game in the opener while the latter’s first snaps didn’t take place until the second half of Week Two.
Whatever the future holds for Rudolph is unclear. He hasn’t been anointed the long-term starter, nor is he a clear heir apparent, pragmatically speaking. Ben Roethlisberger will return for 2020 and 2021, and by then, the Oklahoma State product will be hitting unrestricted free agency.
Johnson, on the other hand, is more likely to stick a while, at least playing a more significant role throughout the life of his rookie contract. Considering that he’s already a starter by his third game, that goes without saying, while Rudolph could be limited to just 14 starts in four years.
In the meantime, he’s trying to nurture that relationship with Rudolph. Of the second-half touchdown to JuJu Smith-Schuster, he said, “I believe that got him going. It helped us out. And obviously he threw me a touchdown pass. We’ve just got to get ready for this week and hopefully have more connections like that”.