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Steelers Analysis

Darnell Washington is a Mismatch at Steelers Training Camp



Steelers TE Darnell Washington

UNITY TWP., Pa. — The buzz out of training camp about Darnell Washington is palpable, and for good reason. Once the pads went on, the big man transformed his game into something new, and something that was truly to be reckoned with both as a blocker and receiver.

But the Steelers are finding out that when you are 6-foot-7 and 265 pounds, there will naturally be some limitations. Mike Tomlin dispersed the idea that Washington was one-dimensional on Thursday, and while that is true, there are some route-running limitations.

“You’d think sometimes that because of his stature and reputation, you’d think he’s one-dimensional, but you’d be wrong in thinking that,” Tomlin said.

So, what are those limitations? It is clear that Darnell Washington is full-go when blocking. He looks solid in space and is able to get a push from an in-line standpoint. But they have not asked him to run the same routes as someone like Pat Freiermuth. Washington has been out of most quick routes, like stop routes, digs, and other routes that require cutting and longer exertions for change of direction.

However, short change of direction in short areas? Washington can excel there. Not just that, he ran a 4.64 40-yard dash and wins above the rim with perpetual consistency. So, Pittsburgh’s solution? Just keep him on a vertical plane. So, far Washington is running everything from a seam, to corners, to posts, to wheels, to over routes, and more on the vertical plane. Pittsburgh has largely cut out any idea that the change of direction matters because he simply does not have to use it.

Kenny Pickett and Mitch Trubisky have largely taken to this from Washington, and he seems to thriving. His biggest plays are on that vertical plane and he is a mismatch nightmare as a result. The viral video of Washington burning Mark Robinson shows him executing a simple head fake and gaining separation. That type of route from a guy a 6-foot-7 is not normal.

But going vertical is the way that Washington creates explosive plays and completely throws all the traditional aspects of the tight end position to the way side. In other words, expect to see Washington running a lot of these vertical-based routes in his rookie season, and getting some real chunk plays off them.

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