Even the best wide receivers don’t always get the ball. Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Diontae Johnson has been in the NFL long enough to have learned that, but rookie George Pickens hasn’t.
Johnson, though, is trying to teach Pickens that fact and what to do when the ball isn’t finding him.
“Just keep playing. Always stay ready. You never know when the ball is going to come your way,” Johnson said to the media when asked what his advice was to Pickens. “The minute you put that in your head, ‘I’m not getting the ball, I’m not getting enough targets,’ that’s when you start to focus on the wrong things, and you don’t really be as locked in as you should be.
“And when there’s time for a play to be made, you ain’t really all the way in because you’re worried about the last play or you worried about not getting the ball. So, it really is just focusing on the right things, and let things flow. Stuff’s gonna happen throughout the game regardless of whether you like it or not.”
Johnson’s advice for Pickens came less than a week after the rookie receiver had an outburst along the sideline due to frustrations from a lack of targets.
Rookie WR George Pickens’ Sideline Tirade
Pickens only received 2 targets, catching 1 of them, in Week 13 against one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL. It was the first time since Week 2 that Pickens didn’t have at least 3 targets.
The rookie receiver didn’t wait until after the contest to voice his frustration due to the lack of targets.
On the first play of the fourth quarter in Week 13, Johnson fumbled a reception on third down. Johnson led the Steelers with 11 targets in the game.
After Johnson’s fumble, which the officials overturned to a dropped pass, cameras caught the rookie wideout yelling, “throw me the f****** ball” along the sidelines.
Pickens went viral for the outburst and received heavy criticism for the tirade on social media.
Steelers React to Pickens’ Sideline Tirade
While the media criticized Pickens, the Steelers have offered nothing but support for the rookie receiver.
“I’d rather say whoa than sic ’em,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin told the media on December 6 when asked about Pickens’ outburst. “I want a guy that wants to be a significant part of what it is we do.”
After his sideline tirade, cameras caught Steelers veteran defensive lineman Cameron Heyward approach Pickens on the bench to calm him down and presumably offer him some advice.
Then during the week, Johnson offered Pickens advice both privately and through the media.
“It’s just how you composure yourself, your body language, all of that,” Johnson continued. “Just keep playing and always be ready because like I said, you never know when the ball is going to come your way.”
The challenge going forward for the Steelers is getting enough targets to both Johnson and Pickens to keep each playmaker happy. Johnson is Pittsburgh’s most proven weapon, but Pickens’ has the most upside and is arguably the most dangerous weapon on the Steelers roster.
Meanwhile, tight end Pat Freiermuth has to be heavily involved in the Steelers offense as well. Freiermuth leads Pittsburgh in receiving yards through 12 games.