Steelers' Washington hopes to minimize 'mishaps'
By John Harris
Thursday, June 7, 2007
Nate Washington calls dropped passes "mishaps." By definition, a mishap brings misfortune. Just ask any Steelers wide receiver.
A dropped pass is just cause to be ridiculed on talk shows and in local newspapers.
"I had a couple of mishaps last year, but that was me playing on pins and needles," Washington said, following a voluntary workout at the Steelers' South Side facility. "I'm still sitting on pins and needles, but the needles are becoming a lot more dull."
Washington was one of the Steelers' most pleasant surprises last season, a real feel-good story. "I needed that," Washington said. "Last year, they gave me the opportunity to go make plays. It's just me becoming more comfortable with the offense, becoming more comfortable with the NFL -- period.
"I'm not worried about the naysayers. The guys that I line up with, that's who I'm worried about. I want those guys to be able to look at me in the clutch."
So, in spite of those bothersome drops, including missing a potential touchdown grab in a loss against Cincinnati, Washington led Steelers receivers with a 17.8-yard average. He caught 35 passes for 624 yards and four touchdowns last season.
So what that he could have had 37 or 38 catches?
So what that he made his share of mistakes?
Who can forget the motion penalty Washington received at the end of the Atlanta game that prevented the Steelers from attempting the tying field goal?
Conversely, don't forget his acrobatic, 27-yard touchdown catch in the opener against Miami, his 47-yard touchdown catch against Kansas City or his 49-yard touchdown catch against Cleveland.
Three touchdown catches -- three Steelers wins.
Don't forget his ability to stretch the field as well as any Steelers receiver.
Moreover, the incalculable experience Washington gleaned from last season after barely playing as a rookie -- not to mention the big plays he made, and, yes, the inner strength he acquired from those dreaded drops -- was beneficial.
Washington expects to have a big 2007 season. Not bad for a product of Division II Tiffin who wasn't even drafted.
"I'm more comfortable and confident," Washington said. "I used to worry so much about this play or what kind of defense are they running. It's just coming natural now. I'm able to play football a lot better."
Said new offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who was Washington's former receivers coach: "When you're from a small college, the first thing you have to overcome is the fact that I do belong. He went through that. He got thrown in the fire last year. He was basically a rookie.
"When you look at him as a rookie, he was outstanding."
Arians said Washington's play improved when he replaced the injured Hines Ward against Tampa Bay. In his first NFL start, Washington had three catches for a career-high 78 yards.
"I think the big thing for him is when Hines was injured and he started, we won football games," said Arians, who indicated Washington may be the team's second-best blocking receiver behind Ward. "He made big plays in the Cleveland and Tampa Bay games that should give him the confidence he can play at this level."
Not to mention keeping those annoying drops to a minimum.
John Harris is a sports writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org