When you think about Diontae Johnson’s brief professional career, it has been anything but smooth sailing. After all, the receiver position is completely reliant on others to see success, and the Steelers’ quarterback play in 2019 was anything but consistent.
Whether it was Mason Rudolph or Devlin Hodges, Johnson has yet to play with a quarterback of the caliber of Ben Roethlisberger for more than six quarters of a regular season.
To say he is excited about the potential of his production, as well as the offense, with Roethlisberger under center might be an understatement. But during a Zoom interview with reporters Wednesday, Johnson said how Roethlisberger isn’t the same quarterback he worked with as a rookie in 2019 leading up to the season.
No, he is different.
This from Brian Batko, who was on the group interview, from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Steelers WR Diontae Johnson on Zoom: "Everybody wants to play for Ben. He's our leader, he's our quarterback, so everybody's locked in. ... He's different this year, from what I saw last year. He's more excited, anxious to get on the field and play with us."— Brian Batko (@BrianBatko) August 5, 2020
Roethlisberger spoke with media on Tuesday, and mentioned how he was nervous for the upcoming season. Nervous because he has never had his season ended with an injury in his long career, but also nervous about the fact he has a lot to prove.
Johnson sees a Roethlisberger who is different outside of any nerves he may be experiencing. Mainly he notices how Roethlisberger is excited and anxious to just get on the field to play. This is a big change, and a welcome one for Johnson.
This per Aditi Kinkhabwala of the NFL Network:
Diontae Johnson, who could (& should) be a #Steelers gamebreaker this year, said there's a noticeable difference in Ben Roethlisberger this year. Said, "He's more excited. He's anxious to get on the field and play w/ us." That in turn, the WR said, makes HIM feel more connected.— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) August 5, 2020
Some might read the above quotes and take the stance that Roethlisberger wasn’t excited or welcoming last year. If that is your take, so be it, you might not be wrong. But having something you may have taken for granted away from you can be a powerful motivator. It can make you appreciate the little things like walk-throughs and practices even more. This could be what is happening with Roethlisberger who stated he wants to win Lombardis, plural, before he calls it a career.
When you look at what Johnson did as a rookie with Rudolph and Hodges under center, it was pretty remarkable.
Johnson managed to pull off some pretty impressive numbers in 2019 despite the poor quarterback play. With 59 receptions in his first year, Johnson is second in franchise history only behind Troy Edwards’ 61 in 1999 which tops the list for Steelers rookies. When it comes to receiving yards, Johnson is 8th all-time in franchise history for a first-year receiver with 680 yards. With only 3 receptions for 25 yards thrown from Roethlisberger before his injury last season, many are hoping the two players can find some magic in 2020.
A question which has been on everyone’s mind is how Roethlisberger’s arm has looked in workouts, and according to Johnson Roethlisberger’s arm looks stronger than ever. Going as far as saying his arm looks “way better” from this time a year ago.
This per Brooke Pryor of ESPN:
Diontae Johnson: "Ben's arm is way better from what it was last year."— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) August 5, 2020
Says he's cut "a lot of them" loose. Says he has a "nice, tight spiral. He's going to put the ball wherever he wants it."
Johnson is a budding star in the NFL, and having Roethlisberger back will certainly help him reach the next level of production, and stardom, in 2020. What does Johnson have in store for fans this season? With Roethlisberger back, and possibly better than ever, the sky is the limit.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for the upcoming 2020 regular season.