James Washington stakes claim for key role in Steelers’ passing game

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Yes, it was just the first game of the preseason. But during this specific preseason, the Steelers are looking for pass-catchers who can help fill the void created by the departures of receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le'Veon Bell.

On Friday night, second-year second-rounder James Washington stepped up.

Targeted five times against the Buccaneers, Washington caught four passes for 84 yards and a touchdown. The scoring play came on a throw from former Oklahoma State teammate Mason Rudolph, who replaced starter Joshua Dobbs on an evening when veteran Ben Roethlisberger didn’t play.

Washington made a nice adjustment to making a full-stride, leaping, lunging catch of a 44-yard pass from Dobbs. The touchdown catch happened thanks to a nifty adjustment at the sideline that showed impressive body control from Washington.

As a rookie, Washington caught 16 passes for 217 yards and a touchdown in 14 games, with six starts. This year, he could develop into a factor, given the ascension of 2017 second-rounder JuJu Smith-Schuster to the top of the depth chart and the scrum to fill out the rest of the spots.