PITTSBURGH — Diontae Johnson’s hopeful 2020 season was marred with drops and inconsistency. So much so, the ups and downs led to him being benched against Buffalo.
However, coming into the 2021 season, Johnson is looking to move on from the drops that have plagued his sophomore season. His reaction to the benching in Buffalo is one that he hopes can springboard his career past the drops and turn his weakness into a strength.
“I’m a receiver and I get paid to catch the ball, so there’s no excuse behind drops,” Johnson said. “It’s all tied down to focus. If a bad play happens, you have to move on from it. That’s what I’ve been dealing with.”
The focus that Johnson is referring to is him wanting to make plays before he’s completed the process of the catch. Specifically, Johnson believes he takes his eye off the ball for one split second and that is his biggest issue.
“It’s just taking your eye off the ball for one split second that just goes into the back of your mind,” Johnson said. “You constantly think about that stuff after that. That’s the main thing. Making sure you look the ball all the way in before you run.”
While Johnson says the focus is the main reason why the drops occurred, he has been strengthening all parts of his hands, including grip strength. Over the offseason, Johnson used tennis balls to help train his hand-eye coordination with a smaller target, so once he transitioned to footballs, it would be much easier.
“I’ve been catching on the tennis ball machine I bought,” Johnson said. “It’s a smaller target, so you have to really focus on the ball. It’s not a big object coming at you. And then, when I catch a football it’s easy.”
Johnson’s arguably the best man coverage beater on the Steelers. For him to get benched against a press-man coverage team like the Bills was a hard knock. However, receivers coach Ike Hilliard noted the receivers have to improve on drops and move past them in 2021.
“Our group understands and they know we have to do a better job of not putting the ball on the ground,” Hilliard said. “We work on it every day and we are going to be cognizant of limiting our drops in the season.”
Meanwhile, Mike Tomlin and the Steelers as an organization are moving on from Johnson’s rough 2020 season. The drops, in fact, have not even been discussed.
“Everyone starts anew as far as I’m concerned,” Tomlin said. “It hasn’t been a real topic of discussion to be quite honest with you.”
Johnson led the NFL in drops with 15 drops according to Sports Info Solutions. However, his value as a man coverage beater and route runner is too much to look past. It is hard to see how Johnson does not get significant time on the field once again, even if the drops continue to be an issue.