Randy Fichtner has got to be pleased with how the Pittsburgh Steelers are handling his first year on the job so far. In an offseason in which most fully expected the team to focus heavily on the defensive side of the ball, the Steelers used their three picks in the second and third rounds, and another in the fifth, to add to the offense.
The most notable of those new additions in terms of the likelihood of offering immediate contributions would be second-round draft choice James Washington, the wide receiver out of Oklahoma State who is going to come in and attempt to fill Martavis Bryant’s shoes.
Fichtner had his first sit-down interview with Missi Matthews during rookie minicamp over the course of the weekend since he became the Steelers’ offensive coordinator, and she asked him a number of questions, including what excited him about the team’s new wide receiver.
“I think he’s a natural-type receiver”, he said of the Texas native who credits his having grown up on a farm for his work ethic. “He catches the ball extremely well. He is combative at the catch point. He has a knack for separation. He’s shown the ability to go past people in college, and I think a lot of that does translate at the next level because you do it”.
Washington and the Steelers’ next draft pick, quarterback Mason Rudolph, were among the most prolific passer-catcher duos in college football over the course of the past four years, and one helped to make the other look better, but each had their own traits that they brought to the able. You see the qualities that Fichtner mentions stand out when watching Washington’s college tape.
But the offensive coordinator’s biggest takeaway from his college career was his productivity in one specific area: the end zone. He caught 39 touchdown passes over the course of his college career, and Fichtner thinks in most cases, that’s not a skill you suddenly acquire if you didn’t come into the league with it.
“He’s scored a lot of touchdowns in a smaller amount of starts comparative to a lot of folks. And to me it starts with who can put it in the end zone, who’s shown that they’ve done it I don’t think you’re going to change all of a sudden and you’re going to do it”, he told Matthews.
“Why? Just because you came to the league and because what? We’re great coaches or we’re not great coaches? That doesn’t happen”, he went on. “If a guy scores touchdowns in college, he’s probably going to score touchdowns on this level, and it’s going to be our job to put them in positions to do that”.
It worked last year. JuJu Smith-Schuster caught 25 touchdowns over three college seasons, including 20 over the previous two, and he was able to reel in seven receiving touchdowns as a rookie. If Washington can even approach that production in year one, it will be another great success.