I admit there’s a bit of “well duh” in my headline. Of course Diontae Johnson will get his first real chance to play with Ben Roethlisberger in 2020 after the future Hall of Fame quarterback was lost six quarters into last season.
But it’s important to put the number to it. Even knowing all the time Roethlisberger missed, it’s remarkable how few passes Johnson caught from #7.
Add up all their completions in training camp, preseason, and regular season, and Johnson caught only seven passes from Big Ben. Seven. That’s it. Here’s the breakdown.
Training Camp: 3
Regular Season: 4
That’s no one’s “fault” to be clear. Johnson wasn’t always running first team in the summer. Back when we thought Donte Moncrief would step in Antonio Brown’s shoes and by the time we realized how laughably incorrect the notion was, Roethlisberger was done for the year. This also doesn’t include the spring of 2019, nor the two weeks of practices before the Patriots and Seahawks’ game but you get the idea. “Roethlisberger complete to Johnson” is a sentence we’ve said very few times.
What all this means is that in a lot of ways, Johnson will feel like a rookie to Roethlisberger. It sounds cliche, and to an extent it is, but there’s chemistry the two will need to develop. Timing through the route tree, getting on the same page on option routes, understanding leverage and coverage, and heck, just the zip on the ball coming out of #7’s hands. All things that were hardly developed a year ago will be developed this season and unfortunately, the lack of a spring complicates matters.
But those prospects are exciting. Johnson came on strong the back half of last season, led all rookies in receptions, and that was with the hodge podge of barely-watchable quarterback play. Gaining chemistry with a Hall of Fame quarterback is the definition of champagne problems and Johnson’s poised to have a big sophomore season.