In the aftermath of Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots, many facets of the way things unfolded were put into question. Among those topics subsequently being discussed concerned the playing time distribution at the wide receiver position and who was playing when.
By and large, it was second-year former second-round pick James Washington who got the short end of the stick in the season opener. In spite of the fact that he played extensively as a rookie last year, only current rookie Diontae Johnson and depth veteran Johnny Holton saw more snaps at wide receiver than did Washington.
During his pre-game press conference yesterday, head coach Mike Tomlin refused to characterize his usage of the second-year player as sparse in any way. He did ultimately play 35 snaps, which is a but less than half of their total offensive snaps. Ryan Switzer played 46 snaps, while both JuJu Smith-Schuster and Donte Moncrief logged 60 snaps apiece.
While Tomlin would not say that he felt Washington could have played more, he acknowledged that the rotation and depth chart is essentially fluid and subject to change on a weekly basis, especially in the early portions of the season. Given that he played pretty well in that game, perhaps he will see a bigger role in Week Two with a good week of practice.
“We’re still in the development of our plan in the distribution of our guys this week. But that’s a process that we’re going to go through, particularly in the early stages of the season, every week”, Tomlin said about figuring out the workload distribution at the wide receiver position, but it also applies to other areas of the roster as well.
He was quick to add that those decisions are made “not in reaction to what transpired in-stadium Sunday night. It’s just the nature of this thing as you harden up your division of labor and find your personalities at the early stages of this thing”.
Complicating the process is obviously the shadow of Antonio Brown hanging over the entire proceedings. He has been one of the focal points of the entire offense for at least the past six years, so adjusting to a new dynamic without him will inevitably include some trial and error.
While Smith-Schuster is the clear number one receiver, it’s a new role for him that he is feeling his way through. Talent- and projection-wise, it’s not clear to say that there is an obvious number two receiver, even though Moncrief is currently in that role. By the end of the year, it could go to Washington, or perhaps even Johnson. Every week will bring us closer and closer to a more coherent picture of what the group really is.