Being a wide receiver is one of the most dependent positions in football, if not the most. There’s only so much you can do to dictate your contributions, which are by design primarily receptions. You can get open on every play, but the quarterback has to throw you the ball.
And the offensive line has to provide the quarterback with the protection to find you open. And he has to decide not to throw to any of the other up to four eligible targets, who might be equally open to receive a pass. Frustration is basically built into being a wide receiver.
That’s something Hines Ward, the former Pittsburgh Steelers great, understands well, and he recently weighed in on the team’s current wide receiver group and on comments made, for example, by rookie George Pickens about feeling like he’s open almost all the time.
“There’s only one ball to go around”, he told Adam Bittner as part of the North Shore Drive Sports Podcast for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Everybody can’t have monster games week in and week out. So when you do get your opportunity, you have to make the most of it”.
Now, it’s important to clarify that he wasn’t making specific comments at or about any Steelers wide receiver. He was commenting generally on what it’s like to be a wide receiver and the importance of having that perspective as you advance in your career, as it applies equally to Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool as well as Pickens.
“All three of them are talented, but they have to understand that there’s only one ball that’s out there”, Ward reiterated. “The quarterback’s not throwing three balls every play. And when your number’s called, you’ve just got to rise to the occasion and make your play and do your job. That’s really what you need to focus on is just doing your job and not worrying about when you’re not getting the ball”.
Even though Antonio Brown made quite a run, Ward still owns a number of team receiving records, as well as many more firsts—such as the first to catch 100 passes in a season. And he played in an era that was focused more on the running game, so he understands even better than they would about the importance of focusing on your game outside of running routes.
It’s a healthy outlook for any wide receiver to take, since, after all, even if you’re one of the greats, you’re still probably only going to average a touch on about 15-20 percent of your snaps played. For the rest of the game, you’re going to be running routes and not getting targeted, whether by design or oversight, and on running downs, your assignment is completely different in nature. Best to make yourself useful when the ball isn’t in your hands.