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‘Big Time Help’: Darnell Washington Shocking Mike Tomlin



Steelers TE Darnell Washington
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Darnell Washington at practice, Aug. 17, 2023. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

Darnell Washington came into training camp known as a ferocious blocker. So far, in his three preseason games, he has lived up to that reputation. But the untapped potential as a receiver is not lost on Mike Tomlin, Washington, or anyone else around Washington. Washington’s ceiling as a receiver is high, a 6-foot-7 monster of a tight end who runs a 4.64 40-yard dash at 265 pounds.

Appearing on The Rich Eisen Show, Mike Tomlin broke down just how surprised he is at Washington’s receiving ability so far. The blocking ability takes no one by surprise, but when a basketball-like body can make plays all over the field in the receiving game, that can be something that coaches even get slightly stunned at on occasion.

“He physically looks like that he has an appetite and an attitude for blocking,” Tomlin said. “So, I’m looking forward to him being a big time help for us. And really, he’s been better in the passing game through this process maybe than we anticipated, which is also a plus.”

Tomlin gave a ringing endorsement of Darnell Washington and his receiving skills at training camp. There may be some natural stiffness in his quickness given his size, but as a vertical threat, or even in the red zone, make no mistake that Washington can go and make plays. Tomlin and the Steelers do not see Washington as some one-trick pony.

“I didn’t see any deficiency in that area of his game, to be honest with you,” Tomlin said. “He made a one-handed catch at his pro day that got my and everyone’s attention; this is a continuation of that. I think sometimes that because of his stature and reputation, you’d think he’s one-dimensional, but you’d be wrong in thinking that.”

My assessment of Washington is that there will be some apparent limitations. Yes, the stiffness can limit his route tree. However, running him up on the vertical route tree is profitable. Matt Canada’s offense thrives off those routes at the tight end position. It heavily relies on seams, posts, crossers, corners, and goal line fades to get the size of the tight end involved up the middle of the field. Washington can win above the rim at an efficient level.

In his first year, Washington will have some rough edges. The routes will not come across as super crisp, and his catch technique needs some work, as he can clap on the ball more than guide the ball through his hands at times. But as a blocker, Washington is ready to play here and now. He will give the team a significant boost in the running game, and his size and build-up speed make him a threat in the passing game if teams fail to check on him.

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