Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson had a stellar rookie campaign and was one of the lone bright spots of a lackluster offense in 2019.
His productive debut is even more impressive when you consider that he performed the way he did all while hampered by an injury.
Speaking with reporters on a conference call Wednesday, Johnson revealed that he played the majority of last season battling a sports hernia, originally suffered Week 2 against the Seattle Seahawks. Johnson underwent surgery to repair the injury in February, and says he is close to being fully cleared.
“I was running, and I felt like my groin was getting a little tight on me,” said Johnson. “I am doing rehab down here in Florida. Doing a lot of core exercises on the Pilates machine. That has helped me a lot. Hopefully I am going to get clear in the next couple of days. I am staying on top of that. Making sure it’s healthy and I come back ready.”
While quarantining in Florida, the Toledo-product has been working on his game, getting healthy and staying ready for whenever football can return.
“I am working on catching the ball, having strong hands,” said Johnson. “Working on getting my routes better, more tuned up. I have plenty of stuff to work on. Not just those two. I am working on my game all around. This pandemic has been crazy. I have been just staying to myself, still getting in the work. I am getting through it. The rest of the guys on the team are doing the same thing as well. I am just staying out of the way and staying ready.”
Johnson also added that he has been building on his relationship with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. After seeing limited action together last season as a result of Roethlisberger’s injury, the two have been working out this offseason.
“It’s crazy. It’s Big Ben,” said Johnson. “He’s great. Just being able to work out with him this offseason has been good. Just getting the timing down, get a feel for him, what he likes, what he doesn’t like. How he likes to throw the ball on a certain play, certain routes. Just trying to pick his brain. I might go back up there next week and work out with him again. Just getting that timing down and get a bond with each other so we can build that trust.”
It appears their rapport building is off to a good start, and it has Johnson excited.
“It’s building that trust with one another,” he said. “I talk to him almost every day now. That’s my guy. We’ve got things to do this year and we are trying to win the Super Bowl together.”
Johnson was a pleasant surprise for the Steelers in 2019, catching 59 passes for 680 yards and five touchdowns. He was also named Second-Team All-Pro as a punt return. Johnson averaged 12.4 yards per return and housed one Week 14 against the Arizona Cardinals.
A fully-healthy Johnson looks primed for a breakout season in 2020, and he plans on doing just that.
“The ultimate goal is to win a championship. My goal is to have at least 1,000 yards and the Pro Bowl. I also want to be an All-Pro punt returner.”