The progress of James Washington has been one of the highlights of the preseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but it seems that not everyone is ready to anoint the rookie as a starter quite yet. Despite all the positive words written about him in recent weeks, it would appear that Ben Roethlisberger is still looking to see a lot more improvement from the young player before he is prepared to trust him.
While Washington was given few chances to work with the team’s star quarterback in the opening weeks of camp, even when Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster missed time due to injury, that arrangement has significantly changed this week. However, it has to be wondered how much Washington is enjoying the new experience given the tough love Roethlisberger has been showing him at practice.
Speaking to Mike Prisuta of Steelers.com, Big Ben revealed the issues he had been having with the former Oklahoma State product and the steps he was taking to address them, telling Prisuta.
“He’s [Washington] gotten more reps. We’ve seen him in there. I’ve asked for him a couple times to be in, in part, sometimes, to give guys a break, but that’s also an opportunity. He shouldn’t look at it as, ‘Oh, I’m just a fill-in.’ He should look at it as, ‘Alright, this is my chance,’ and I think he’s done that.”
Although mistakes are to be expected for a player still making his transition to the professional ranks, Roethlisberger appears to have little tolerance for rookie errors at practice.
“There was a play today where he made a rookie mistake again. I told him to get out (of the huddle), I don’t want him back in for right now. Those are part of the learning curve. It’s nothing against him personally. (Tuesday) was one that I really feel like he shouldn’t have made. I don’t think he’ll make it again because we had a good talk about it after. The thing that made me the most frustrated is we literally just talked about this particular defense, what the Titans do and what we want that receiver position to do. ‘Cover 2,’ get outside, we’re going to try to hit you just past the corner before the safety gets there.
“Well, he beat the corner because the corner was sitting in ‘Cover 2.’ He thought he beat him, so he’s just running as fast as he can down the field. I threw it into that little area between the corner and the safety and he wasn’t looking when I threw it. I said, ‘What’s disappointing to me is we just went over this on film.’ He’s like, ‘I thought I beat him so I was just trying to run deep.’ I said, ‘That’s fine, two things are going to happen. The ball’s either going to get intercepted or you’re going to die because the safety is going to kill you.’ Hopefully, he learned from it and won’t make the mistake again. If he doesn’t, then we know he learned. If he keeps making the same mistake, then we start to have issues.”
If Roethlisberger doesn’t have enough faith that Washington is going to do the things he expects from him, his targets are going to limited, regardless of where he ends up on the depth chart. Thankfully, there is still time for the two players to work on their chemistry with two preseason games remaining, but it would seem fair to question why the coaching staff waited so long to give the rookie reps with their starting quarterback in the first place.
Should the duo have failed to develop a connection by opening weekend, fans should be prepared to see less of the second-round draft pick than expected on gameday until that trust has been established.