Diontae Johnson only got to work with Ben Roethlisberger for a short period of time. The veteran quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers had checked out of the game by halftime of their second week of the season in 2019 during Johnson’s rookie year, so the vast majority of his team-leading 59 receptions game from Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges.
That doesn’t stop him from thinking about, and getting excited about, the prospect of working with the future Hall of Famer again, especially in year two after having gained this necessary experience and having the opportunity to apply the lessons learned to build his craft.
As he told David Ginsburg following Sunday’s loss, “I’m looking forward to Ben hopefully coming back healthy, so it can get back to the way it used to be”.
That’s a bit of an interesting comment coming from somebody who only played six quarters with the guy, and one might be inclined to read into that a negative assessment of the performances of those who replaced him for the remainder of the season. But it’s not exactly hidden knowledge that the offense took a major step back when they lost Roethlisberger.
He also said in the locker room earlier this week, “obviously, the quarterback change was different…I wouldn’t say that was the reason we haven’t been successful this year. It’s just really as a group, we just didn’t do the things we needed to do at the time, and the plays we needed to execute, we didn’t do that”.
If you watch the interview itself, however, it almost seems as though he’s trying not to say this season’s failings fall upon the shoulders of those who were tasked with replacing a Hall of Famer. After all, Johnson was drafted to work with Roethlisberger. When healthy, he had been being shuffled in and out of working with the first team since the Spring.
All in all, the third-round pick out of Toledo caught 59 passes on 92 targets, gaining 680 yards with a team-leading five touchdown receptions. He also had 41 rushing yards on four carries and 248 return yards on 20 punt returns, including an 85-yard touchdown.
Subdivided, 30 of Johnson’s receptions came from Rudolph amid 48 targets, with 385 yards and four touchdowns. Hodges completed 25 of 37 passes looking for Johnson for 270 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions. With Roethlisberger, he was targeted just six times, catching three passes for 25 yards. He also caught one pass for four yards on one target from Jaylen Samuels.