Steelers WR Johnson To Start ‘From Here On Out’

Rookie will be more involved in offense Sunday vs 49ers

Josh Rowntree
September 20, 2019 - 1:59 pm

The Steelers are making a change to the offense, and it will come in the form of an injection of youth into the offense.

Rookie wide receiver Diontae Johnson will make his first career start Sunday when the Steelers travel to San Francisco. 

Johnson, who dealt with an injury in training camp and the preseason, has shown flashes of brilliance since arriving in Pittsburgh. 

Despite the promotion and increased role, there was little pomp and circumstance when Johnson found out the news, however.

“They just put me in there ands told me I’m the starter from here on out,” he said. “I’ve got to keep executing and making plays to help the team win. 

“I’m just trying to do what I can. I’m in the offense right now, starting. I’m going to try to continue to show the coaches I know what I’m doing and I’m getting ready for Sunday.”

Johnson is needed. The Steelers passing offense, now with Mason Rudolph at the helm for the injured Ben Roethlisberger, could use a shot of life, especially vertically. He will, in all likelihood, be taking snaps away from Donte Moncrief, who has five drops in the first two games. 

“I’m learning from (Moncrief) a lot and the rest of the guys,” Johnson said. “I’m trying to just pick their brains, because they’ve played more than me. So I’m just trying to see what they see out there on the field and apply that to my game.”

The Steelers opened the year with the bulk of receiver snaps going to top wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster, Moncrief and Ryan Switzer. Now it seems as if Johnson and second-year player James Washington will see more action.

“It’s somebody who knows the plays,” Smith-Schuster said of Johnson. “He’s a young guy that’s developing. He’s showing his skillset, what he can do. In the last game, you saw what he can do, and the preseason. This game will be his first start, so we’re super excited to see what he puts on film.”

What was seen, against Seattle Sunday, was Johnson contorting his body to make a 16-yard circus catch on third down. Plays like that are opening the eyes of his teammates. 

“Man, he has some stuff with him as far as being quick-twitched and being able to stop and start that is special,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “His route running is very, very good. 

Johnson drew comparisons to former Steelers star Antonio Brown for that shiftiness and his combine measurements. Haden sees the similarities, but knows that there is a long way to go for Johnson to be on that level. That said, the optimism around the rookie seems legitimate. 

“I’ve just been trying work my releases against him, work my press technique and try to work in that,” Haden said. “I think he has the best releases and is the quickest off the line on our team. For me, getting that work with him, I think it’s helped a lot.”

If Johnson is helping the defense, surely he can do the same for the offense.