Of all the players on the Steelers roster, there was probably no one happier to put on pads Tuesday than rookie tight end Darnell Washington.
Washington practiced last week, but he didn’t necessarily stand out, which is understandable. Washington without pads is like Superman without his cape. All of that changed on Tuesday, however, when the 6-foot-7, 255-pound Washington took part in his first padded practice.
His first challenge? A one-on-one matchup against T.J. Watt.
Washington more than held his own against the former Defensive Player of Year. He wasn’t as fortunate, however, during his matchups with Alex Highsmith and fellow rookie Nick Herbig. Such is life for rookies who all eventually learn that, in the NFL, things can change on a dime.
Washington’s physicality is his calling card, but he’s also a pretty good pass catcher. He displayed that element of his game later in practice when he caught a jump ball over defensive back James Pierre for a score. Washington’s work in camp has gotten the attention of Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett, who is looking forward to getting more reps down the road with his big tight end.
“He’s done a great job,” Pickett said, via Nick Farabaugh of Steelers Now. “You know, he’s working hard and I’m sure his mind is going one hundred miles per hour. It will slow down for him but I’m just excited how he’s showing up and working. He’s mentally locked in, and everything else will come.”
CBS Sports caught up with Washington following a recent practice. Washington touched on a number of topics that included similarities between the Steelers and Georgia, his long-term goals in the NFL and what it’s like to practice in front of Steeler Nation.
How has camp gone so far?
DW: “There’s still way more room to adjust. I feel like the deeper and the most time I spend as a pro, the more I’ve got to learn. Really just taking it step by step. Still learning the ropes from the reps and the players on the team.”
What have been the biggest challenges so far?
DW: “I’d say a little bit of everything. The game speed’s different, so adjusting to that. And then it’s a new playbook, at least for me, so just adjusting to that as well. It’s really just a little bit of everything. Every little thing adds up.”
Are there similarities between the Steelers and Georgia?
DW: “One-hundred percent. When it comes to the work ethic, and each teammate here just wants to grind better and work on their craft.”
You played in a lot of championship games at Georgia. Can you take that experience and apply it at all here?
DW: “I’d really just say the tunnel vision part. Playing in the natty twice, each game is loud. Everybody wants to win. There’s lots of fans. You’ve just got to lock in, have that tunnel vision, block out that noise, things like that.”
Any personal goals this season?
DW: “Really just want to contribute to the offense … not even offense, just any aspect of the team, whether that’s special teams or offense in any way. Whether that’s moving the chains or momentum plays on special teams.”
George Pickens recently said that you have the potential to be the greatest tight end of all time. What would success be for you?
DW: “Really, just playing in the league as long as possible. Giving it my all, leaving no regrets on the field, if that’s practice or in the games. Just finding a rhythm and continue on that rhythm and continue to put in that work and make plays or whatever it may be.”
What do you think of the offense so far and its potential?
DW: “I would say through the roof, but I don’t have a roof over me. It’s through the sky.”
What’s it like practicing in front of these fans? The Steelers have a notoriously passionate fan base.
DW: “For me, it’s still crazy. Still soaking it all in. Having the best fan base in the National Football League. They’re treating me right, treating me like family. You’ve got to be one to experience it. It’s hard to explain, but it’s a good feeling to be here.”