Steelers rookie tight end Darnell Washington got his first career start against the Ravens two weeks ago. He expected to recede into his primary blocking role as the number two tight end, with Pat Freiermuth scheduled to return. Instead, that did not happen. Friermuth aggravated his existing hamstring injury from the team’s loss in Houston and is now expected to miss this game against the Rams and could miss even more time.
But Washington has all of the requisite traits. He admits the injury to Freiermuth is a challenging experience given Pittsburgh’s offensive struggles. They need everyone they can get. But it gives him a chance to make a difference on the Steelers’ offense, both as a receiver and blocker. Washington’s massive frame was displayed in training camp when he made circus catches and was a red zone monster. As he learns the NFL game, that guy has not crawled out yet. But in his second NFL start against a team on the upswing, the Rams, Washington hopes to show the Steelers staff something.
Right now, Washington is just learning to become an NFL player. He still has room to grow as a blocker, though that part of his game is impressive. There are multiple things that Washington is learning at this time to become a better player in the future. Tight ends coach Alfredo Roberts believes that production in the passing game will naturally come to him. That could begin to occur against Los Angeles.
“Is he a focal point of the offense right now? I think he’s grown to the point where if we throw the ball to him, he’s going to make his plays,” Roberts said. “He had an opportunity in the preseason to make a few plays, and the ball found him in Houston. It’s more about that. When you’re designing these passing concepts, and you’re saying I want to push the ball here to Diontae, George, or Pat, for the others surrounding guys, you just make sure you’re in your spots because we’re blessed with three quarterbacks that can play off-schedule…
“So, those off-schedule plays become a lot bigger when the Pat Mahomes of the world show you that it keeps guys playing within the game. It’s 11-on-11 football with the quarterback now a part of that. He’s still growing as a player, young player. There’s still many things he has not seen yet, coverages that he has not seen. How are they going to attack him, he’s not seen that. The more reps he gets, the more he’ll see. It was a taxing game for him, he played 46 snaps. Your body goes through that. I’m encouraged that he will be productive in the passing game going forward in the season. He’s shown that he can and I trust that he will. The quarterbacks trust him.”
Washington can bring himself into focus and allow the rushing attack to blossom behind him in space. Pittsburgh started to run behind Washington to success against the Ravens. They likely will try that again in Los Angeles. Washington just has to rise to that occasion when asked. He has the chance.