Steelers News

Ike Hilliard: James Washington Has Accepted Challenge Of Playing More In Slot

Outside of things like disclosing injuries, there aren’t many things coaches are required to speak the truth about. They can answer questions, but they might not necessarily be telling you the real story, or at least the complete story.

Sometimes you just have to wait and see what happens. And that appears to be where we are with the Pittsburgh Steelers and wide receiver James Washington’s role in the offense now that JuJu Smith-Schuster is out for the rest of the year due to a season-ending surgery to repair his injured shoulder suffered in week five.

While Washington was coming off of a groin injury, he hardly played this past week, and coaches declined to say specifically that it was due to him coming back into full health, talking instead about schematics and matchups. Which leaves us guessing what his role will be on the other side of the bye.

Still, being down a starter can’t be bad for a reserve’s playing time, something wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard acknowledged when he said that “it’s a great opportunity for James” to get on the field with Smith-Schuster out.

“I have to continue to bring him in that fold to get in that spot where he normally hadn’t been”, he added, referring specifically to the slot and the potential for the veteran to line up inside more, which hasn’t been where he normally plays when on the field.

“James has accepted that challenge, and I obviously as a position coach have to do a better job of allowing James to do more things at that spot, earlier in the week, so I can feel comfortable, whether he’s injured or not. You’ll see more of 13 there”, he added.

Washington has played 150 snaps so far this season in five games, averaging 30 snaps per game, but he has played only 15 snaps or fewer in three of those five. He logged 66 snaps, and then 49, in the two games missed by Diontae Johnson, and then Chase Claypool. He missed the week five game in which Smith-Schuster was injured due to his own groin injury.

He has 10 catches on the season so far for 108 yards, but is yet to find the end zone. He does have one drop, but also has the highest catch percentage of his career, having seen just 14 targets. The former second-round pick is due to be a free agent in 2022 and would love to have the opportunity to put up some numbers.

There were reports earlier in the year suggesting that Washington requested to be traded, or at least wanted to be traded. That has never been verified officially by anybody involved with the team. Washington has caught 100 passes in 50 career games for 1452 yards and nine touchdowns.

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