Washington Could Start if Smith-Schuster Misses

Pittsburgh rookie WR coming off big perforce against Patriots

Josh Rowntree
December 21, 2018 - 2:28 pm
Pittsburgh Steelerswide receiver James Washington (13) is slowed down by New England Patriots cornerback Jason McCourty (30) during the third quarter at Heinz Field.

Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports


The Steelers may be without one of their top weapons Sunday in Washington, as JuJu Smith-Schuster missed Friday's practice after he suffered a groin injury in Thursday’s practice, this according to the Post-Gazette's Ray Fittipaldo. 

Smith-Schuster leads the Steelers with 95 catches and 1,274 yards. He has added six touchdowns. 

Of course, Pittsburgh will have Antonio Brown, who has caught 90 balls for 1,112 yards and a team-best 13 touchdowns. Brown, however, seems to think Smith-Schuster will be able to go.

“I think he’ll be there for us,” Brown said. “We’re excited about the opportunity to go out and play this weekend.”

If Smith-Schuster is unable to play, it will likely mean that rookie James Washington will get a bigger role, if not thrust into the starting lineup.

“He’s a tough guy,” Washington said of Smith-Schuster. “I don’t doubt that he will be there. But we just never know. You’ve just got to know your position and know the roles of everyone, just in case you have to step up and do other things.”

Washington is coming off his marquee moment of the season. In-and-out of the lineup, he has made just 13 catches for 152 yards and a touchdown. But, his 32-yard, leaping reception against New England Sunday showed the potential, and shed a little light on why the Steelers used a second-round pick on him in April’s draft. 

“It was a lot of excitement just because it was a big catch,” Washington said. “It’s something everybody’s always going to look back on and remember. But I just have to keep moving forward. I can’t dwell in the past and have to keep making plays to help this team get to the Super Bowl.”

“He’s been really hungry, excited about his opportunities,” Brown said of Washington. “I think he’ll maximize it as he gets more opportunities.”

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been, at times, openly critical of Washington’s adaptation to the offense. 

“That’s how we get better, we challenge one another and we see where we come out,” Washington said. “It just so happened that it helped me get to where I am. I’m really appreciative of it.”

The logistics of Smith-Schuster missing, should that be the case, are interesting, due to his ability to play in the slot or outside. But Washington thinks the receiver group is able to handle whatever assignments are thrown at them.

“Even last week, when JuJu was with us, Ben was putting us in different positions, looking for matchups,” he said. “Even if someone is not there, you still have to know everything.

“It’s a lot to look forward to. We’ve just got to go out and compete and just do what we’ve been doing all year. Everyone has to do their job and that’s enough. Ben always tells us that, and I believe it.