Any player or coach who is new to an organization this season is going to be at a disadvantage, for obvious reasons. It has only been within the past week or so that players and coaches have had the real opportunity to get together and start working on the grass in preparation for the 2020 season.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, they don’t have a lot of new faces entering key roles, and their head coach and coordinators remain static from years past, but they did add a couple of key new members to the coaching staff at the positional level, including Ike Hilliard, who represents their fourth wide receivers coach in as many years.
Which means that he is coach number three for James Washington as he heads into his third season, after leading the team in receiving yards last year. Fresh off the reserve/Covid-19 list, he’ll finally get a chance to work directly with Hilliard, but the new coach has already left an impression on him.
“He seems like a family man first, and then a football coach”, he said of his new coach earlier in the offseason. “I feel like he really cares about the player. He wants the best for us. He isn’t just there for the job. He wants to make sure we are good men and good players. For a coach to say he cares about you more as a person than as a player, that is a check mark right there in my book”.
Of course, that part of a relationship is easier to focus on and to build when you can’t get on the field. There is only so much you can do in terms of talking about plays and working through tape without having the opportunity to translate it onto the field. That part, now, is finally coming.
“As all young players, they are going to see themselves for however many years they have been here”, Hilliard said about the areas of Washington’s game that still need improvement. “We are going to look at the plays, we are going to detail them once he gets back. We are going to accelerate that process who we see fit and we expect James to be a better player this year than he was last year”.
His comments were made before Washington was activated from the reserve/Covid-19 list, so now the wide receiver is free to be in the building and participate in all of the normal team activities that are going on right now, as teams ramp up to actual practices in a couple of days.
Washington’s case has been a difficult one to evaluate, because while he struggled as a rookie, he entered his second season playing with inexperienced quarterbacks who were unable to cater to his skill set the way they could to Diontae Johnson, who works closer to the line of scrimmage. This will be a big year for him, and the on-field prep work is just getting started.