Going into the 2019 season, Diontae Johnson was excited about the opportunity to work with Ben Roethlisberger. But his time on the field was limited after Roethlisberger's season ended after just two games with an elbow injury that required surgery.
The outlook for 2020 for the duo to work together is much brighter, and they have already spent some time this offseason getting prepared.
"It's crazy. It's Big Ben," said Johnson. "He's great. Just being able to work out with him this offseason has been good. Just getting the timing down, get a feel for him, what he likes, what he doesn't like. How he likes to throw the ball on a certain play, certain routes. Just trying to pick his brain. I might go back up there next week and work out with him again. Just getting that timing down and get a bond with each other so we can build that trust.
"Me and Ben started talking during the end of last season. I had to prove to everybody I can play, that I am not a bust. As the season went on, I started contributing, making plays. He was talking to me more. It's building that trust with one another. I talk to him almost every day now. That's my guy. We've got things to do this year and we are trying to win the Super Bowl together."
In the meantime Johnson is focusing on getting himself back to full strength. During a Zoom call on Wednesday he said he is still coming back from offseason surgery he had for a core muscle injury he suffered Week 2 of the season against Seattle, the same game where Roethlisberger was lost. And despite the injury, he still had a strong season.
Johnson finished the year with 59 receptions, leading the Steelers in catches as well as leading all NFL rookies in that category. His 690 receiving yards were second on the Steelers and his five touchdowns led the team. He also had a huge impact in the punt return game and earned a spot on the second-team Associated Press All-Pro team.
"I was running, and I felt like my groin was getting a little tight on me," said Johnson of the injury. "I am doing rehab down here in Florida. Doing a lot of core exercises on the Pilates machine. That has helped me a lot. Hopefully I am going to get clear in the next couple of days. I am staying on top of that. Making sure it's healthy and I come back ready."
Like everyone else, Johnson isn't sure when the time to come back is. He just knows he can't let himself be idle and get caught behind the eight ball when teams are back together again.
"I am working on catching the ball, having strong hands," said Johnson. "Working on getting my routes better, more tuned up. I have plenty of stuff to work on. Not just those two. I am working on my game all around. This pandemic has been crazy. I have been just staying to myself, still getting in the work. I am getting through it. The rest of the guys on the team are doing the same thing as well. I am just staying out of the way and staying ready.
"I have been staying to myself. I am staying ready, trying to get ready for camp, whenever that is. I am just ready to get back and work with the guys. I miss it every day. Just sitting at home not being able to do much, it gets old. I think about it every day and I miss it."
One thing Johnson has a hard time wrapping his hands around is if games are played without fans, as he loves the energy Steelers Nation brings and would miss it.
"It's going to be like a scrimmage," said Johnson. "The fans are what get us going. They give us energy. It will be different if we have nobody in the stands. It won't feel right. It will feel like another practice. Hopefully everything goes well, and we get some fans. If not, we will have to play without them."
Take a look at some of the best photos of Diontae Johnson during the 2019 season
More from Diontae:
On new receivers Coach Ike Hilliard:
"I haven't gotten the chance to work with him in person. From what I have been learning from him through the meetings and Zoom calls he seems like a pretty good guy. Laid back. He knows what he is talking about. He is giving me different pointers about being a receiver, trying to better my game."
On how much OTAs helped him last year as a rookie and what challenges Chase Claypool will be facing not having them in person this year:
"The biggest part was being able to workout and stuff. Doing all of that traveling, and visiting teams, when you get to the team, I was out of shape because I didn't get to work out like I wanted to. Being in shape is what they harped to me about, being ready to run. I had to get my legs up under me. Learning the playbook was tough too. I had my teammates there to help me. The challenge he is going to face is learning the offense through an iPad. Just trying to pick up everything without being able to learn in person, walk through the routes and try to get to know everybody, get a feel for the room, the quarterbacks is going to be different for him. I am sure he is going to come in prepared. I am sure he is ready right now."
On his name not being mentioned much among the top receivers in the NFL:
"It's been like that since I was in college at Toledo. Everybody doesn't really know me like that. I just have to keep doing what I am doing, keep working until they respect me. That stuff doesn't faze me. Everybody doesn't always have a story. They don't know me and how I work. They can say whatever they want. I am still going to continue to me and help the Steelers win."
On his goals for the 2020 season:
"The ultimate goal is to win a championship. My goal is to have at least 1,000 yards and the Pro Bowl. I also want to be an All-Pro punt returner."