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Diontae Johnson has been catching tennis balls this offseason to help his focus

(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

The Steelers' receivers led the league in drops with 43 last year. So, heading into the 2021 season wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard is making it a point with his group to improve significantly in that department.

“Drops are part of the game,” Steelers wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard told the media on Wednesday. “Obviously, we had too many balls on the ground. It’s been discussed. Our group understands. They know we have to do a better job of not putting the ball on the ground. We work on it every day. We are going to be cognizant of limiting our drops going forward during the season.”

Among the receivers, Diontae Johnson struggled the most last year when it came to catching the ball with a league-high 16 drops. According to Sports Info Solutions, 14 of Johnson's drops were within five yards of the line of scrimmage. To Johnson's credit, he did improve when it came to catching the ball late in the year after being benched by Mike Tomlin for most of the first half against the Bills in Week 14 after two drops.

Johnson is looking to bounce back in 2021 and attributes his drops last year as being an issue of focus.

"I have been working on everything," Johnson told the media today. "You can't focus on one specific thing. Yeah, I had drops last year but that comes with focus and stuff like that. Just having confidence in myself. I have been believing in myself every time and knowing every time that ball comes my way, I am going to make that catch."

Johnson said he's even working on catching smaller objects to help his focus.

"I have been catching on my tennis ball machine I bought this offseason," Johnson said. "It's a smaller target so you have to focus on the ball. It's not a big object coming at you. Now when I catch a football, it's always been easy to me, but it's that focus and keeping it.

"Taking your eye off the ball that one split second. That is the main thing. Focus. I have been focusing on catch first, run second."

Hilliard believes Johnson's struggles last year are just a part of the maturation process and he credited him for how he handled the adversity.

“It’s part of maturity and growth,” Hilliard said. “We know our guys are not out there trying to play poorly. Diontae is no different. He handled it like a pro. He continues to work diligently. We’re going to see, hopefully, another giant step for him. He’s going to be a big part of what we do.”


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