James Washington walked off the field after a recently completed OTA practice and looked like a different person.
Sure, the 15 pounds he lost this offseason, dropping down to around 210 pounds, were a big part of the difference. One of Washington’s offseason goals was to drop some weight, and he did that with a combination of working on his family’s farm in Texas and with a trainer in Miami.
“I went home for the first two weeks, was putting in some hard work with my dad on the farm,” said Washington. “I was trying to cut down weight. Eat less. I went to Miami and worked in the sun. Worked on strength, strong hands, all the things receivers work on.
“I feel great. I feel lighter. I feel like I am a lot quicker off the ball. It was about 40 percent farm work and 60 percent field work. Last year at the end of the year I wrote down some goals. That was my top goal, to cut weight, to get faster. Not just for me, but for the team. That was my main goal.”
The physical weight isn’t all Washington dropped. He also looks like a different person because mentally he dropped a lot of what weighed on him his rookie year. His rookie season wasn’t an easy one, filled with mental challenges that ate away at him at times.
“It was hard. I am not going to lie,” said Washington. “There were times I would go home, think to myself ways to get better and not let the team down. I was disappointed last year. I have high expectations for myself and this team has them for me.”
Once things got into his head that was the problem. He couldn’t get them out of his head. Washington was thinking too much. Might sound like a crazy thing, but it’s something that can definitely impact a young player.
“That was it. That was the main thing,” said Washington. “I was thinking too much. Talking to Coach (Mike Tomlin), he gave me some encouragement. I talked to Ben (Roethlisberger) and that cleared up a lot of confusion with myself and my capabilities.
“I am more relaxed now when I am in the huddle with Ben. I am listening to him call the play. My mind is functioning more. It’s thinking about the entire play, the fine tuning of my route.
“Last year it wasn’t there because I was a different person. I feel like a different person. Ten times different. I feel like a veteran even though I am only in my second year. It feels a lot better.”
Before the team reported to OTAs, Roethlisberger took a group of players to his home in Georgia, to relax on a lake and just spend time bonding. Washington said that took his mental approach to even another level, giving him the opportunity to get to know his quarterback better, something he didn’t have the opportunity to do last year.
“It was a lot of fun.” Said Washington. “It was a time for us to get to know each other a little better. Last year we never really hung out so it was me looking at him, a Hall of Famer. Going there I started to look at him more as a human being like I am. I think everyone felt like I did.
“I would have approached the season differently last year. Every time I was in the huddle with him I was nervous. I didn’t want to mess up. It helped relax me a lot.”
Washington said it all started for his the last few games last season, when Roethlisberger sat him down and talked to him. And since then it’s continued to build, with Roethlisberger giving the receiver words of praise when OTAs began.
“It feels good,” said Washington. “It lets me know the hard work I put in over the spring has paid off. It feels good to hear a team captain talk about you.
“He gave me some encouraging words last season too. It helped me perform the last two games. My confidence is starting a lot higher. I cut weight. I am coming in fresher. I know the playbook. I am more confident.”
Washington is ready to make a jump on the field this year, taking that big step players do in their second season. But he isn’t going to put the pressure on himself this year like he did last year.
“I take it day to day,” said Washington. “If I can get one percent better every day it’s going to add up. I try not to put too much pressure on myself. You can’t just be over anxious. You have to approach it day by day.”