The Pittsburgh Steelers’ passing game was in rare form last season, and certainly the best in team history. They had two wide receivers combine for over 2800 yards and with 22 touchdowns between them. Quite a bit of that production forced its way out of the city earlier this offseason, however, and the man who threw for over 5000 yards and 34 touchdowns is on the Reserve/Injured List.
While JuJu Smith-Schuster remains, his ability to contribute significantly and productively has varied from week to week, and has been dependent upon the ability and willingness of the quarterbacks to get him the ball. Things seem to be picking up now, though, and among those picking it up is rookie Diontae Johnson.
The third-round pick is coming off of a five-receptions, 84-yard game, in which he scored his third touchdown of the season. Johnson has been put in a prominent role ever since Donte Moncrief failed to live up to expectations when he was signed in free agency, and the Steelers are now watching him grow week by week.
“You know, you never want to put on ceiling on where they would be”, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner told reporters yesterday, via a transcript provided by the team’s media department. “We have high expectations for him, and they continue to grow each week”.
He reminded that Johnson was slowed through much of the offseason, even going all the way back to rookie minicamp, because of a number of minor ailments here and there. They continued to be an issue in the summer, so that limited his progression.
“I like his progress right now, but the challenge would be to continue to grow each week”, he added. “I think we’re finding out some things that he can do really well and some things we need area of improvement in, and he understands that. So, it’s a nice problem to have early”.
Still, while they have been pleased with the level at which he has been able to contribute to this point, they have also talked about the importance of protecting him, somewhat, from putting too much on his plate. That is why Fichtner rebuffed a question about him emerging to take over the number two receiver role.
“I think he’s made his opportunities”, he allowed. “I don’t really put a number on him…I like to think they’re all ones, to be truthful. I mean, that’s the mindset, and that’s exactly where they’re coming from. They don’t ever put a number on theirs. They’re going to get as much playing time as they can”.
Despite the protestations, Johnson has so far clearly shown himself to be the most viable number two option, with James Washington still finding himself and Moncrief and the rest only seeing a limited amount of playing time.