Darnell Washington highlights ‘different plans’, route tree as starting point in Arthur Smith’s attack

Darnell Washington is the latest player to discuss the significant differences he sees in the Pittsburgh Steelers offense under new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. It’s the biggest change we’ve heard on both sides of the ball since they hired Todd Haley to the same post over a decade ago. And no surprise either, as it is the most radical departure from their previous system since then.

Every player who has spoken about changes from previous seasons on offense beamed when talking about the differences. Of course, everything is great in the off-season, but there is still something in the widespread adoption of this system. And tight ends have an especially strong incentive to approve this, as Washington knows.

“For me it is very exciting. Definitely in a tight end-friendly offense,” Washington told reporters yesterday via the team’s website. “There are several programs out there from last year. They just go against our defense, they kind of expect last year, but if we switch it up, they would say (confused). It is also an adjustment for them, so it is certainly exciting in this attack.”

It seemed like at least once a month an opposing defense would allude to the predictability of Matt Canada’s offense. We can’t say for certain that Arthur Smith will be the Riddler of offensive coordinators. But it’s hard to imagine that he was the open book that Canada seemed to be.

And players like Darnell Washington appreciate the differences he sees Smith bringing to the offense. Asked what changes he personally sees, the second-year tight end said: “One of the things I would say is the route tree. That’s probably one of my most important things.”

Once again we have accused Canada’s offense of being stuck on very predictable, repetitive routes. If we notice these things, so do opposing NFL teams. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Steelers hired Canada, but also a new wide receivers coach. Obviously, Washington is a tough call, but he knows he needs to work on this aspect of his game.

Although partially due to injury, the tight ends only accounted for 536 yards of offense in 2023. TE Pat Freiermuth had more than that on his own in 2022. Of course, Freiermuth missed some games last year. But the Steelers barely used Washington in the passing game. That doesn’t mean Smith will play him, but the tight end seems to believe he will have a bigger role.

The sheer number of snaps for tight ends is another predicted departure for Smith from Canada. Smith has a long history of deploying heavy personnel, and Washington has already taken plenty of snaps as a rookie. “If you throw multiple tight ends in there at the same time, it can confuse the defense,” he said. “I feel like that’s part of the game.”

Time will tell if Arthur Smith’s offense is all tight end like Darnell Washington’s dream. But I think it’s telling in itself that so many players are willing to believe in change. They knew what they were doing wasn’t working.

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