The Pittsburgh Steelers skill position players had far too many drops during the regular season and that’s certainly an understatement. In total, and according to Pro Football Focus, that number was 41 and that includes the team’s playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns. The Steelers wide receiver group was responsible for 27 of those 41 drops in 2020.
On Thursday, Steelers wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard was asked about the large number of drops his unit had in 2020 and if he knows why it happened and if anything can be done this offseason to limit that number in 2021.
“Unfortunately, drops are part of the game,” Hilliard said. “Obviously, we had too many balls on ground. It’s been discussed and our group understands, and they know that we have to do a better job of not putting the ball on the ground.”
Actions will obviously speak louder than words when it comes to Hilliard’s comments on his units drops last season. Of the 27 that the Steelers wide receivers had in 2020, Diontae Johnson had a league-leading 15 of them. His inability to hold onto footballs during the season ended up with him being temporarily sat down for a stretch of one game. On Thursday, Hilliard was asked how he thought Johnson handled that benching last season.
“It’s part of maturity and growth,” Hilliard said. “We know that our guys are not out there trying to play poorly. We’re all professionals and we’re trying to get it right. Diontae is no different. He handled it like a pro. He continues to work diligently and we’re going to see hopefully another giant step for him as a pro in this game and he’s going to be a big part of what we do as well.”
Johnson was only credited with three drops during his 2019 rookie season on 86 total targets. With the huge jump in drops that he had in 2020, it’s obviously something he knows he needs to work on this offseason and according to him he has. He also has since admitted that he let the drops last season take a mental toll on him as well.
“I let it get in my head,” said Johnson back in March. “I see people on social media bash my name. It’s not like you don’t see it. It’s there. It’s hard to put it to the side, but when you see it, it’s going to be in the back of your mind. That is how it got a hold of me. I tried not to think about it. But it’s in the back of my mind during practice. In the games I am like, ‘Bro, catch the ball.’”
After 27 drops by Steelers wide receivers in 2020 and 20 in 2019, you can provably count on Hilliard spending a lot of time with his group on that phase of their game as the summer continues.
“We work at it every day and we’re going to be cognizant of limiting our drops going forward into season,” Hilliard said on Thursday.