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Why Darnell Washington is Not Involved in Steelers Passing Game



Steelers Darnell Washington
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Darnell Washington at training camp, Aug. 2, 2023. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

PITTSBURGH — Steelers tight end Darnell Washington has not seen his involvement in the passing game tick up. So far, he has just three targets and one reception. That reception came against the Texans, but he found himself utilized heavily in training camp and the preseason, making this regular season development all the more baffling. But to be fair, it’s not just him who is not seeing targets; Pat Freiermuth has not seen much usage in the passing game.

So, the tight-end position looks desolate. When Washington was asked about this before his first start, he laughed it off and said that will naturally come. That makes sense after talking to tight ends coach Alfredo Roberts on Wednesday, who preached a similar message. He says that the game will naturally come to Washington, who is a standout blocker right now. There’s no need to rush Washington into the fire of the passing game.

Steelers TE Darnell Washington

Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Darnell Washington at rookie minicamp, May 12, 2023. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

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.

“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.”

Steelers TE Darnell Washington

Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Darnell Washington at training camp, July 30, 2023. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

That’s a long-winded way to say that Washington is not in focus yet, but he can potentially earn more targets. Many quarterbacks, including Kenny Pickett, have vouched for Washington’s pass-catching abilities. It’s not something that the team has focused on just yet, and most of the tight-end production has come off-script. Washington’s lone catch came as the leak-out option on a play-action bootleg.

But if the changes the offense has talked about embracing are valid, then the tight end positon could see an increase in their production. That includes Darnell Washington, who has yet to be utilized much in the red zone, but mainly because the team does not get into the red zone very often.