The Pittsburgh Steelers, and their fan base, had high hopes for James Washington in his rookie season, and why not? After he was selected in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft, fans saw the next JuJu Smith-Schuster, also drafted in the second round, but of the 2017 draft.
What transpired was an extremely disappointing season for Washington. A year in which he hardly contributed, and some would argue was remembered more for his mistakes than plays made.
Either way, 2018 is gone, and Washington is a new man. Both figuratively, and literally. In the offseason Washington worked on getting faster, and by doing so meant he would have to lose weight. In total Washington dropped roughly 10 pounds, and it was a combination of hard work on his father’s farm, and training in Florida.
“I went home for the first two weeks, was putting in some hard work with my dad on the farm,” Washington told Teresa Varley of Steelers.com. “I was trying to cut down weight. Eat less. I went to Miami and worked in the sun. Worked on strength, strong hands, all the things receivers work on.
“I feel great. I feel lighter. I feel like I am a lot quicker off the ball. It was about 40 percent farm work and 60 percent field work. Last year at the end of the year I wrote down some goals. That was my top goal, to cut weight, to get faster. Not just for me, but for the team. That was my main goal.”
This is all well and good, but Washington also talked about the trials and tribulations which came from last year — none of which surrounded the drama that engulfed the Steelers locker room the entire year.
Washington was just struggling with his confidence.
“It was hard. I am not going to lie,” said Washington. “There were times I would go home, think to myself ways to get better and not let the team down. I was disappointed last year. I have high expectations for myself and this team has them for me.”
“I was thinking too much. Talking to Coach (Mike Tomlin), he gave me some encouragement. I talked to Ben (Roethlisberger) and that cleared up a lot of confusion with myself and my capabilities.
“I am more relaxed now when I am in the huddle with Ben. I am listening to him call the play. My mind is functioning more. It’s thinking about the entire play, the fine tuning of my route.
“Last year it wasn’t there because I was a different person. I feel like a different person. Ten times different. I feel like a veteran even though I am only in my second year. It feels a lot better.”
Washington feels like a better person, and the rabid Steelers fan base hopes he plays like a different person in 2018. Rookies have been known to get off to slow starts, but the Steelers will need Washington, and others, to step up in a big way with Antonio Brown now officially a member of the Oakland Raiders.
If the offseason proves anything, it should show fans Washington is not only a tireless worker, but someone who is determined to make his mark on the team, and possibly the NFL, in 2019.