While it is always worth tempering your enthusiasm about reports coming out of OTAs regarding the performance of any player, it was hard to ignore the positive words coming from some of the veteran players about rookie wide receiver Diontae Johnson on Tuesday.
With the entire team in Pittsburgh for the start of the Steelers three day mandatory minicamp, the former Toledo product was a popular topic of conversation, highlighted as one of the standout performers by his teammates when talking to reporters.
As per Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Ben Roethlisberger has been spending extra time with his new receivers this offseason and is already impressed with the potential Johnson has been showing.
“The one thing I noticed was he caught every ball I threw to him, I even threw him some bad balls on purpose, throw some high, behind him, just to see if he would catch them. And he caught every one. It was impressive.”
A sentiment echoed by Joe Haden when asked who had stood out at OTAs to him, as reported by Teresa Varley of Steelers.com.
“For me the receiver, No. 18 (Diontae Johnson). He runs some really, really crisp routes. He is natural. He is fast. He comes out of his breaks really well. He has been impressive. I watch receivers. I watch tape on them. He is a good one.”
Special teams coach Danny Smith is also excited to see what the young player can do as a return man having spent extensive time scouting him for that role ahead of the draft.
“You know, I studied him a lot. I liked him a lot. I put together tape on him. We discussed him in the draft in that fashion. I went over to Toledo to visit with him and meet him. I spent a lot of time with him. He’s a good player. He’s a real good player. And we’ll see, you know, how he handles all this, you know, at the next level, but he’s a very good player.”
For his part, Johnson is starting to find his footing after missing much of the first few weeks of OTAs with a hamstring injury, as reported by Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“I think it’s going pretty good. It’s getting into the flow of things and getting comfortable again. Coming in, I didn’t know what to expect. As the days go on, I’m starting to feel comfortable.”
“I’m learning the offense, but I feel like I’m playing smoother than I did first coming in. If I have a question, he’ll [Ben Roethlisberger] tell me what to do, how to adjust to certain things and stuff like that. It’s just little details like how many yards before the break. He’s just testing me right now to see how I adjust to the ball and stuff like that.”
Given the limited amount of time Roethlisberger spent throwing the ball to James Washington during his rookie offseason, it is encouraging to see that Johnson is getting comparatively more time with Big Ben this year. The sooner he can develop a rapport with Big Ben, the better his chances of being able to contribute early on in 2019.
But while it may be far too soon to tag him as the starter opposite JuJu Smith-Schuster as Pro Football Focus did recently, these initial reports suggest it should not be completely discounted.