Amid all the talk about JuJu Smith-Schuster needing a bounceback season, Diontae Johnson on the verge of breaking out, and rookie Chase Claypool skying over the Pittsburgh Steelers’ starting cornerbacks in training camp, it almost seems as though third-year wide receiver James Washington has been put on the back burner in terms of media attention.
That is a year after leading the team in receiving yards in a very tumultuous environment from an injury standpoint at the quarterback position, and which arguably particularly affected his own performance as primarily a deep threat (as evidenced by his 15.8-yard average depth of target).
But the former Oklahoma State product largely stepped up last season, coming in with better physical conditioning and preparedness and greater confidence in his positioning within the offense and in himself as a football player. After finding tangible success on the field, he has continued his development into Year Three.
“I think he started that process of developing his professional body and the level of conditioning required to be great after his rookie year”, head coach Mike Tomlin said of Washington after today’s practice at the South Side facility. “I just think this is just a continuation of that awakening and the process itself”.
“I don’t think that that is anything new, but I do see the continued commitment there, which is appropriate”, he went on. “I think as long as he continues that approach, I think he’ll continue to search for the ceiling in terms of the development of his talents and the development of his contributions within our football group”.
Because of the unusual circumstances last year, it’s difficult to really gauge where anybody stands within the offense until we get everybody back out on the field with Ben Roethlisberger, who is of course returning from a serious elbow injury that caused him to miss almost all of last season.
He and Washington did not have a good rapport during his rookie season in 2018, so they didn’t get much chance to work on it last year before Roethlisberger was hurt. He still found ways to make an impact with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges, and through that experience, he wants to show how much more he can do with the franchise quarterback under center.
Yesterday, he told reporters that he reported in better shape this year even than he did a year ago, saying that he feels leaner and quicker, dropping about five or six pounds of fat and feeling able to jump better.
In terms of tangible production, it’s hard to buy into the Steelers’ receiving corps this year. If you go by the potential for what they very realistically can be this season, however, I think they can rival just about any group in the NFL, with guys like Washington sneaking up on those who are not familiar with their unit.