In spite of frequent minor injuries, Diontae Johnson only missed time in one game last season due to injury, and that was only after taking a vicious shot to the head that caused him to bleed from the ear and to suffer a concussion.
Through five games in his second season, he has now missed the majority of three games, including sitting out a game for the first time in his career this past Sunday, due to a back injury that he sustained early in the previous game on a punt return. This was a week after suffering a concussion.
But the appears to be back on track to retaking the field, looking to resume his connection with Ben Roethlisberger, who looked his way a team-high 23 times over the first two games of the season. In week two, he caught eight passes for 92 yards and a touchdown on an improvised play 28 yards from the goal line. Since then, he’s played 25 total snaps.
“It’s always great to have a skillful player back”, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner told reporters on Wednesday about Johnson’s return, via transcript. “You feel kind of naked without them”. He noted that the two having really played a lot together in their careers as well.
“I think that will be the exciting thing as we move forward to see where that growth comes from. Like I said, he’s a playmaker that has had a couple nagging injuries that have set him back. I think this has been a good week for him so far in practice”.
In his absence, Chase Claypool in particular has stepped up, scoring five touchdowns in the past two games alone, including three receiving touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns, putting up about 200 total yards of offense. With a full deck of cards, will there be enough balls to go around?
“I don’t know if it’s about keeping them happy”, Fichtner said. “I think we’ve got some roles that each one of them can really excel at. We really try our best to use them and things that they can do that they are comfortable with and they have done their best with. I don’t know”.
As pretty much everybody has said, the key to keeping everybody happy and content within their roles is to keep winning games. The Steelers have played in five games and won all of them, so they haven’t really faced meaningful adversity in terms of usage just yet.
Injuries, such as that to Johnson, have also created some breathing room to allow for others to step up into roles they might not otherwise have had. But the bottom line really is quite a simple one, and that is this: it’s always a good problem to have too many good pass catchers that you have to worry about whether or not you can keep them happy. I’m fairly certain there has never been an offensive coordinator born who lamented having too many options.