A year ago at this time, wide receiver Nate Washington was one of the nameless, faceless rookies just trying to catch somebody's eye.
A product of tiny Tiffin College in Ohio, Washington was a record-setting receiver at the NCAA Division II level after hauling in 212 career catches for 4,214 yards and 47 touchdowns.
Washington not only opened some eyes in training camp last season, the undrafted rookie earned a spot on the Steelers' roster.
A year later, Washington is looking for much, much more. Washington will be in the starting lineup Saturday when the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers open their preseason schedule at Arizona, the first game at the Cardinals' brand new stadium in Glendale, Az. Kickoff is set for 4:05 p.m.
Washington admits to being more than a little nervous about making his first start in the NFL, even if it is in an exhibition game.
"I'm anxious kind of. It's a position that I'm in right now that you never know, really. I'm just trying to go out with a focused head and do what I have to do to get through the game and show them I can play at this level," said Washington, who will start because Hines Ward is out with a hamstring injury. "Other than that, I'm not worried about starting right now. This is preseason. It's still a tryout. Any of us can start right now, I'm just trying to show them I can play at this level."
The Steelers are already pretty much convinced of that.
Though he was active for just one game during the regular season last year, the 6-1, 185-pound Washington did play in the Steelers' final three playoff games last season – including the Super Bowl – after Quincy Morgan suffered a broken leg in the team's opening round win at Cincinnati. Washington made the first catch of his career in the AFC Championship at Denver, hauling in a 13-yard pass to convert a third down. Later in the game he broke up an errant pass in the end zone that would have been intercepted.
Washington has followed that up by having a strong showing in the team's offseason workouts and has carried that over into the early portion of training camp.
The Steelers are interested to see Washington perform against another team's first unit, even if it is just for a short period of time.
"Nate Washington's had a great camp but when he played last preseason a lot of it was in the fourth quarter," said head coach Bill Cowher. "Then he got a chance to play in the playoffs, and now let's see him get a chance to get up there and play with the first group. I think it'll be great for him." Washington thinks so as well.
"I'm a humble guy. I've done nothing yet in the NFL. I've done nothing yet here in Pittsburgh," he said. "That's the way I feel. Hopefully, this year we can bring another Super Bowl back to Pittsburgh and I'll make a big contribution to that."
Washington is part of a re-made receiving corps for the Steelers that includes first-round pick Santonio Holmes and third-round selection Willie Reid. Veteran Cedrick Wilson – who is taking free agent departee Antwaan Randle El's spot in the lineup – will start opposite Washington. At this point, however, only Ward, the Steelers' all-time leading receiver, is a sure thing for the team.
They will work with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for at least one series before he gives way to backup Charlie Batch. First-year player Shayne Boyd will work third in third in the team's quarterback rotation, with rookie fifth-round draft pick finishing up the game.
Tyrone Carter will get the first shot for the Steelers are free safety in place of departed starter Chris Hope. Free agent pickup Ryan Clark, who is battling Carter for the position, will start the team's second preseason game.
Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.