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Steelers TE Darnell Washington Steps Up at OTAs

Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Darnell Washington had a big day on Thursday at OTAs, and hopes it is a sign of things to come in 2024.

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Steelers TE Darnell Washington
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Darnell Washington at training camp, Aug. 3, 2023. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

PITTSBURGH — The hype train for Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Darnell Washington might have started as a bit too much. That’s not to say Washington did not have a path to dazzling in his rookie season, but not in the way that his reps at training camp would have told anyone. He had his highs as a blocker, but Washington’s usage remained virtually nonexistent as a receiver.

However, in his second season, Washington joins Arthur Smith’s offense, which features a significant number of 12 and 13 personnel. Washington should see an uptick in usage in the red zone, and he expects that. All that new with Washington in the offense gives him a gut feeling that he is in for a big second season with the Steelers.

Steelers TE Darnell Washington

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

“I do. At the same time, I still gotta build trust with the OC for him to call whatever we want to call. Still gotta build trust with the QBs,” Washington said. “It’s a gut feeling. I put in the work and I think this could be a big year.”

Darnell Washington has physical gifts that no one else in the NFL has at the tight end. He is 6-foot-6, 264 pounds, while running a 4.64 40-yard dash. To say that is rare would be an understatement. Justin Fields even gave Washington a Jimmy Graham comparison. I think that is a bit far for it, but Washington hopes to take a necessary step as a receiver this season.

Washington went to work on his route breaks. He thought that, at times, he played far too stiff in his route breaks and wanted to become more fluid to create separation. At his size, that is asking a lot since fluidity generally does not come with that frame, but Washington hopes he can take a leap in that specific area.

“Getting in and out of my routes was the biggest thing,” Washington said. “You know, my route breaks; I want to be able to run different routes and create separation. That was my biggest focus this offseason.”

Whether Washington can improve his work will depend on his usage of the Smith offense. Jonnu Smith and Kyle Pitts received heavy target workloads a year ago, and Smith generally loves to target the tight end position heavily. Washington can expect to be the second option in the room behind Freiermuth, who is moving around like a chess piece on the offensive side of the ball.

The third-round pick was heralded as a steal at the time of his selection, and he has untapped potential for Smith to work with, especially down in the red zone. Expect his usage to increase in 2024 due to the offensive change and another year of experience for Washington.