Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson suffered a shoulder injury during the first half of the team’s final preseason game, landing awkwardly after catching a deep pass. The issue has lingered, which he has described as “annoying”, but he has been able to participate on a limited basis thus far entering the final day of practice. Will he be good to go for the season opener?
“We’ll count on him being ready to go”, offensive coordinator Matt Canada told reporters about his number one receiver’s status yesterday, via transcript provided by the team’s media department. “He was obviously limited yesterday so we feel good about his progress”.
A fourth-year veteran, Johnson earned Pro Bowl honors last season after 107 passes for 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns. He signed a new short-term contract extension during training camp that ties him to the organization for the next few years as they transition at the quarterback position.
Still, the Steelers understand it’s not a one-man show, and they’ve planned accordingly. They do have five other wide receivers on the 53-man roster right now, and they have already gotten experience mixing and matching based on availability during the preseason.
“He was out for a while early and Chase [Claypool] was out so we’ve moved guys around”, Canada said about the position, referring to the top two receivers’ preseason availability. “So, we feel good about the plan we have in place if that happens to anybody. We’re hoping he’s ready to go”.
Having Johnson, who is one of the best route-runners in the league, available would obviously be a tremendous boost for the offense, but they do have a number of other pass catchers available to contribute, including from the other skill positions.
Both running back Najee Harris and tight end Pat Freiermuth caught at least 50 passes as rookies last season, and the Steelers are working on getting the latter the ball down the field more, as we did see with some success during the preseason.
The trio of Gunner Olszewski, Miles Boykin, and Steven Sims is an interesting group, as well. Olszewski is elusive in the slot, but his offensive experience is limited. Sims, too, is a slot receiver of greater experience. Boykin is a bigger body who can make some tough catches in addition to stretching the field a bit.
But of course the focus will immediately turn to George Pickens, their second-round rookie, whom the NFL community is just waiting to see go off. He’s already a favorite to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. He would reasonably see plenty of playing time in Johnson’s absence. He is already listed in the starting lineup as it is.