James Washington has shown what he can do with and against backups. But now it is time for the top dogs.
Washington has been the Steelers’ best offensive weapon through two preseason games, catching eight passes for 162 and a touchdown.
It is the second straight year that Washington has shined in the first two preseason games, going for 158 yards and two scores last year.
But, after that, Washington’s production dropped off. He finished the regular season with just 16 catches for 217 yards and only one touchdown.
Seemingly the main issue with Washington was his inability to develop chemistry with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, something he thinks has gotten better.
“I feel like I’ve grown on it, just from mistakes last year and studying him giving signals to other guys,” he said. “I feel like we’re ready to go.
“It feels good. Everybody’s healthy so far and just getting us out there together and getting on the same page as (Roethlibseger), that’s what we’re working towards.”
Part of developing consistency with Roethlisberger is picking up on audibles and subtleties, whether that be hand signals or unspoken reads of defenses. And that is where Washington must develop if he is to become the second wide receiver behind JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Maybe the most impressive aspect of Washington’s nice preseason is that he has done so with both Steelers’ backups, Joshua Dobbs and Mason Rudolph, who he formed a successful connection with in college at Oklahoma State.
Dobbs and Rudolph are stuck in an intense battle for the backup quarterback position.
“Both the guys are just working hard, just trying to maintain and be consistent each and every day,” Washington said. “It’s going to be a hard decision on the coaches.”
Washington’s struggles in his rookie season can and should be used as an example to first-year players. The mental side of learning the game is important, as is confidence.
“Just stay positive and don’t let things get you down,” he said. “You’ve just go to stay positive and trust in yourself.”