The Pittsburgh Steelers avoided a couple of scares on the health front this week leading up into the regular season opener. Right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor crept up onto the injury report with a back ailment but quickly proved it to be a non-issue. A more long-standing concern was wide receiver Diontae Johnson’s shoulder, injured in the final preseason game.
The fourth-year veteran admitted on Friday after the final practice before the opener that he was a bit concerned at the start of the week. “I was just being in my head a little bit, talking to myself about how I’m feeling and how I think I’m gonna play”, he told reporters, via the team’s website.
“But I done got that all out of the way”, he continued. “I’m feeling better, was able to practice yesterday, was able to gain my confidence back in my shoulder, catching the ball better and all that stuff how I’m normally doing. I’m ready to go”.
Johnson was listed as limited on the first two days of practice during the week for which injury reports were required to be produced, though it seems on Thursday he left practice only due to a cramping issue in his foot, not his shoulder. He also stressed that that practice work was important for him, not just to work out his shoulder, but for his game.
“I go off of rhythm. If I’m off of rhythm I feel like I’m not gonna play as well”, he said, speaking about how he benefits from practice reps. “I like to stick to my routine, and some little bump in the road getting in the way of my routine, it kind of threw me off a little, but I got back on track”.
Indeed, based on his earlier comments about his confidence returning in his shoulder, he seems very much to be in a good place, and has still had time before the game to rest it a bit more. He should hopefully be good to go without limitations, as the injury report—with no injury designation—would suggest.
Johnson is coming off of a career year during which he caught 107 passes for 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns, making the Pro Bowl as an alternate selection. While many appear still reluctant to acknowledge it, he also significantly cut down on his errors, including both drops and miscues in being on the same page as his quarterback.
It was the first 100-catch or 1,000-yard receiving season for a Steelers player since both Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster managed it in the same year in 2018, and it was a workload that had been in the making.
Now he is the number one target not for Ben Roethlisberger, of course, but for Mitch Trubisky, and in time, will be Kenny Pickett’s number one target. Establishing that rhythm of working together will only make him an even more valuable tool for them as the entire offense looks to get in sync.