PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers have an extremely young offense in general, and the team is especially inexperienced at the wide receiver position, following the offseason departures of the three of the team’s veterans. That’s left Diontae Johnson and Claypool, in their fourth and third years with the team, in leadership roles in the unit.
It’s a little bit jarring that Johnson, 25, and Claypool, 23, could be the elder statesmen of the room. But that’s exactly what the case has been so far through the early part of the team’s offseason.
“I think it’s the first time on the Steelers where I feel like my voice is being actively heard,” Claypool said during OTAs. “I’m taking that seriously and trying to help the young guys because I was there last year and two years ago.”
Claypool was that type of vocal leader in college, and he feels it’s a natural step in his maturation
“When I first got to Notre Dame, I wasn’t that guy and then became that guy,” he said. “It’s the same thing here.”
So far, that’s paying off. Rookie George Pickens said Claypool has been the biggest help so far in getting him adjusted to the league.
“I talk to Chase almost every day,” Pickens said. “Experience-wise, he’s a vet. But years-wise, he’s only in his [third] year. He can really just help me in terms of getting in the flow of the game and getting in the flow of the locker room and getting in the flow of the whole facility.”
Johnson, meanwhile, is less of a talker. But as the Steelers’ most accomplished receiver, he can show young players things just by what he does on the field and how he goes about his business. The young wide receivers have taken to staying after practice to work with the Juggs machine, partially on Johnson’s example.
“I’m not a vocal leader,” he said. “I lead by action and play through the talking. That’s what I’ve done since I came into the league and I’m going to continue to do that. I’ll talk here and there to give pointers to the rookies or whatnot or whoever asks a question. But other than that, I’m just trying to lead by example and let my work do the talking.”
The readiness of rookies Pickens and Calvin Austin III and new additions to the squad Miles Boykin and Gunner Olszewski will be the first test of Claypool and Johnson’s leadership abilities, and it will be a critical one.
After all, they’re only two players at a position where three on the field at the same time is the norm and four is far from uncommon. Those rookies and other new additions are going to be leaned on for a lot this season.
“When it comes to picking up information, I see they catch on real fast,” Johnson said. “They’re watching the older guys. They’re picking our brains.”
It’s somewhat jarring to have the leaders of a unit be players with so much to work on about their own games. Johnson was outstanding in 2021, but still feels like he has yet-to-be tapped potential. Claypool’s second season as a pro was up and down, with him failing to fully capitalize on the momentum of his rookie season.
Those players now will have to not only get themselves ready to be even bigger parts of the offense in 2022 after the departures of JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington and Ray-Ray McCloud, but help get the next generation up to speed, as well.
That’s a big ask, but the Steelers don’t have anyone else to do it.