Diontae Johnson uses tennis ball machine to work on drops

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Steelers receiver Diontae Johnson led the league in drops last season. To kick his drops habit, Johnson worked with tennis balls.

Via Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Johnson purchased a tennis ball machine and practiced catching the tiny, fuzzy spheres shot therefrom.

It’s a smaller target so you have to really focus on the ball and the object coming at you,” Johnson said this week, via Rutter. “That’s what I’ve been honing on to. Now, when I catch the football it’s easy.”

Then he corrected himself.

“It’s always been easy to me, but it’s keeping that focus and that confidence,” Johnson said.

Drops aren’t an official stat; unofficial numbers had him at anywhere from 16 to 10 last season.

“It was just focus,” Johnson said. “Just taking my eye off the ball that one split second. Drop the ball right there and it goes in the back of your mind and you constantly think about stuff like that. That’s the main thing — focus and making sure you look at the ball all the way in before you run. Focus on the catch first, run second.”

Johnson wasn’t the only Steeles players who dropped more than a few passes last year. At one point, coach Mike Tomlin vowed to replace those who can’t catch the ball with those who will. With a new season looming, Tomlin is willing to provide a clean slate to Johnson.

“Last year is last year,” Tomlin said about Johnson’s drops, according to Rutter. “Everyone starts anew as far as I’m concerned.”

If Johnson can put the drops behind him, he can thank a sport where it’s never good to catch the ball during a game.