Our Ron Lippock spoke with Steelers 3rd round pick Diontae Johnson. A star receiver for Toledo, the Steelers are hoping to strike MAC lightning in a bottle twice as they try and replace Antonio Brown.
First, how’s everything going so far – what’s been going well for you specifically?
It’s been going pretty good so far. I’m getting adjusted – learning the playbook so they know they can start counting on me and know I know what I’m doing when I’m on the field. The playbook is the biggest priority – getting that down and my connection with Big Ben.
Getting to work with him has been great – I’ve been watching him growing up – just getting used to that.
Is it hard to get past playing with guys like that – ones you watched and idolized?
It’s not hard – I realize that it’s my job now. I’m not a fan anymore. We work together now. That’s just how I have to take it and move forward
What have been the hardest parts of the playbook to adjust to and who/what has been helping you do so?
Just the concepts – it’ similar to college, some of it. But the plays are longer – they all have different names and play calls and terminology. So remembering all of that is the hardest part.
JuJu has been helping out – and Montcrief and Switzer too. They’ve been rallying around me and have been there to answer any questions I have. I’m playing behind Crief right now. He’s been in the league a while and has had a lot of success so I’m following his footsteps a lot.
Any good matchups in practice so far?
I know I’ve gone up against Artie Burns but I can’t remember the guys I’ve gone up against really. Most don’t say much – maybe a “good job” here or there but that’s it.
Many people have spoken about your unique approach to breaks and routes. What is behind the development of your unique style?
I think I’ve always had the skillset. I started off as a quarterback and the rest just came naturally when I moved to wide receiver. It’s just something I know I can do – I’ve worked on it since I was young and have gotten a lot of advice from older guys pointing out what I can do differently.
How has having played quarterback helped you as a wide receiver?
Playing quarterback taught me how to see the field and to better adjust to what the defense is doing. I also have a better understanding now of what a quarterback is thinking and looking for. It’s different – it gives me an upper hand I think when I’m out there. I know the coverages and how to use my leverage to better attack defenses.
How has the rookie class been – any characters? All bonding well?
It’s been a lot of rookie stuff so far. Football camps, that sort of thing. D-Bush and Layne have been the main characters so far. We’ve all been bonding and having fun together. I’ve worked at two football camps so far with the guys, showing kids that they can do anything if they put their minds to it. Showing them we care about them.
Explore the city at all yet?
I haven’t been around the city much – just the South Side a bit. I just haven’t had the chance. I’ve been around where we will practice – around the schools. But that’s been about it so far.
You have any preferences on playing inside or outside?
Right now I’m mostly on the outside playing behind Crief. Some of the plays have me moving inside a bit but mostly I’ve been on the outside, I really don’t really have a preference – I’ll go wherever I’m needed to help them out and win games. I’ll help out where I can – whatever they need.
And special teams – working on those a lot yet?
We’re not doing much yet on special teams – at least not much on the returns stuff. Mostly blocking and some catching as we get ready for the return stuff later. I now I’ll get a lot of opportunities to play on special teams so that’s a big thing for me.
Is it frustrating knowing you don’t have many reps to show what you can do and contribute?
Sometimes. I know I’ve got to get the playbook down. I’m anxious to go out and make plays but I know I have to be patient. I’m out there now running with the twos – I have to take advantage of every rep. I want to play but I know I have to wait my turn.
And lastly, tell us a bit about you off the field – what makes you tick…
I’m a big movie guy – you’ll catch me at the theaters a lot. I’m laid back – chill. I’m not a guy you’ll find gets into trouble. If fans see me, if they want they’ll get a picture. I want to show fans love and make them feel big too.
Diontae Johnson at OTAs