There has been a change in the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receivers depth chart.
Rookie third-round pick Diontae Johnson confirmed he is getting an increased role in the offense beginning with Sunday’s game at the San Francisco 49ers.
“(Offensive coaches) just put me in there and told me I’m the starter from here on out,” Johnson said after practice Friday. “I’ve just got to keep executing and making plays to help the team win.”
Johnson is expected to join JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington as the Steelers’ three primary wide receivers. Veteran Donte Moncrief was benched just after halftime last week after his fifth drop in his first six-plus quarters with the Steelers. Ryan Switzer would be the other receiver whose role is being diminished in favor of the quick and shifty Johnson.
“Man, he has some stuff with him as far as being quick-twitch and being able to stop-and-start that’s special,” said veteran cornerback Joe Haden, who said he prefers practicing against Johnson as opposed to any other Steelers receiver in fine-tuning his own skills. “I think his route-running has been very good.
“I think he has the best releases, and he is the quickest off the line on our team.”
Diontae Johnson with the unreal grab! @juiceup__3
— NFL (@NFL) September 15, 2019
Johnson has only four catches for 42 yards on nine targets through his first two NFL games. He has played only 50 snaps, but his role in the offense noticeably increased after Moncrief’s benching last week. He had a lunging 17-yard catch on the first snap of the fourth quarter of last week’s loss to Seattle.
Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner on Thursday hinted at a bigger role for Johnson, noting Johnson siphoned some of the punt return work away from Switzer last week.
“You start to see the growth of a young player,” Fichtner said. “I am encouraged and excited by him.”
The remake of the receiving corps coincides with Mason Rudolph taking over at quarterback for the injured Ben Roethlisberger.
“Now I am in the offense right now, starting, I’ll just try to continue to show the coaches that I know what I’m doing,” Johnson said, “and get ready for Sunday.”