LATROBE, Pa. The Steelers are seeing a different Diontae Johnson so far at Saint Vincent College.
“I’ll be able to run all day and make plays,” the third-round wide receiver insisted prior to this afternoon’s practice, the second of training camp 2019.
That hadn’t been the case every day during the Steelers’ springtime sessions.
Johnson was nagged by hamstring issues he attributed, in part, to not being able to work out as consistently as he would have preferred while in the process of making eight pre-draft visits around the NFL.
“That took a toll on me once I got to rookie minicamp,” he said. “I wasn’t that in shape during OTAs.”
But beginning with the conditioning test the players went through after reporting on Thursday, Johnson has been a different player.
“I saw him run his conditioning test, and he was barely breathing,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger observed. “You can tell that he really took that to heart, that he needed to get in great shape, and I’ve seen that so far.
“I’m excited for him.”
As if to prove the point, Johnson took an end-around the distance thanks in part to some nifty footwork and cut-backs on one of the final plays of the last 11-on-11, non-tackling period of the day.
He also was one of four players who spent a little time during a special teams period catching punts (along with wide receivers Eli Rogers, Diontae Spencer and Ryan Switzer).
Johnson has been working with quarterbacks Mason Rudolph, Josh Dobbs and Devlin Hodges while playing wide receiver in 11-on-11 drills.
He’s convinced his conditioning is such that he could handle punt return, kickoff return and wide receiver roles all at once if asked to do so.
“I’m able to do that,” he maintained. “I’m in shape. I can run. I’m not going to be tired out here.
“That’s the thing I’m ready to put on tape, show I can run all day.”
THROUGH THE UPRIGHTS: Kickers Chris Boswell and Matthew Wright both went 8-for-8 on field goal attempts of varying distances.
Boswell, with punter Jordan Berry holding, hit from 28, 30, 31, 32, 33, 27, 32 and 37 yards.
Wright, with punter Ian Berryman holding, was successful from 28, 30, 31, 29, 26, 29, 34 and 33 yards.
TAKING IT AWAY: The defense came up with two more interceptions. First-year defensive back Kameron Kelly picked off Dobbs and first-year linebacker Tegray Scales got his hands on the carom of a Dobbs pass that glanced off the hands of wide receiver Tevin Jones.
The emphasis on creating turnovers continues.
Head coach Mike Tomlin made sure first-year linebacker Robert Spillane was aware of as much after Spillane had made a stop following a short completion in the flat.
“Ball-search right there,” Tomlin instructed. “Ball-search right there, finish.
“Punch for the ball.”
MEDICAL FILE: Tomlin said third-year wide receiver Johnny Holton was dealing with a minor hamstring issue. Outside linebacker T.J. Watt (hamstring) remains on the Active/PUP List and did not practice.
“We have a lot of time in front of us,” Tomlin said. “We’re not going to be reckless in his return.”
EXTRA POINTS: The offense won “Seven Shots,” the Steelers’ practice-opening, short-yardage/two-point conversion drill, 5-2. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw a conversion/scoring pass to wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and scored on a keeper. A subsequent Roethlisberger pass to Smith-Schuster was caught but out of bounds rather than in the end zone. The offense was also awarded a score when outside linebacker Bud Dupree jumped offside … Roethlisberger and Smith-Schuster hooked up on another long completion in 11-on-11 work … Running back James Conner made an attention-getting move to elude inside linebacker Vince Williams and convert in a third down drill. Williams came back with a pass defensed against tight end Vance McDonald.
Take a look at photos from the Pittsburgh Steelers 2nd day of training camp