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Diontae Johnson must prove himself to Pittsburgh Steelers after quitting on team, says Phoebe Schecter

Diontae Johnson was criticised this week for failing to help the Pittsburgh Steelers after team-mate Jaylen Warren fumbled the ball in their win over the Cincinnati Bengals; the wide receiver had previously been involved in a locker room argument with Minkah Fitzpatrick

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson came under fire this week
Image: Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson came under fire this week

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson apologised to team-mates this week after quitting on a play against the Cincinnati Bengals. In her latest column, former Buffalo Bills coach Phoebe Schecter takes us inside an NFL locker room as she shares her thoughts on the incident...

You have to immediately know that everybody is going to see that when they watch the film the next week, especially on that interception, and so you have to come at it and attack it.

You can't let behaviour like that go away, and I've been a part of teams that have had a toxic player where it kind of seeps in, and if you allow that you teach it and say that behaviour is okay and then others start to lose respect. So you can very easily lose the locker room based off of not addressing something like that.

We have seen it for a few weeks in Pittsburgh, where there has already been a few disgruntled moments from players and confrontations within the Steelers locker room, and Diontae Johnson was involved in one of them before Sunday. You can tell something was perhaps boiling over, but if you have a veteran quitting on a play like that, they are quitting on other areas of their job too.

What do they look like when they are at walkthroughs? What is their effort in film study and in the classroom? Or have they given up there too?

I get it in terms of that it's a run play and he's not going to get involved, he's not trying to sell anything in the passing game, but you should never behave that way. There is the turnover and they are literally past you.

The bigger issue is that every player has a role to play in their team, because ultimately if one person does not do their job that could be the equivalent of not being able to feed your family, right? That's how players think when you are in that building.

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You look at that guy who quit on a play and say, that's the reason I potentially won't be able to put food on the table for my family, so to speak. That's what football is and what it means to them. Football is how they live, and when you don't take care of it, when you don't even try to make an effort, you end up in this really poor situation.

Veterans and leaders of a team will always pull up players in the locker room for moments like that. I have been in some locker rooms where they step back and say 'fight it out' and let them go for it if it means resolving it. If you guys need a fight, they almost encourage some sort of fighting.

You need the veterans who are going to step up and talk to them, and allow those vets to have that conversation but also feedback and say, 'hey, this guy is is not going to change, they have checked out'. It is a tough situation, but you do have to think, 'am I going to keep this guy on to the end of season? Do we think he's going to change or do we let him go because actually he's hurting the team more than he's helping them from a culture perspective?'

It surprises me slightly that this happened in a Mike Tomlin team. He makes it so clear with his motto of 'the standard is the standard' and I feel like it is incredibly clear where and what the expectations are. In that sense it is odd that this is happening with the Steelers, but you always have to look at the Steelers this year.

Every year they find a way to be mediocre, and yet they find a way to make it. It's not pretty, it's tough and if you are a receiver you get your drive from catching passes and explosive plays and being the guy, and now you're not doing that and instead asking to run block more and find ways to win from a selfless perspective. It's not always going to be the style you want.

George Pickens spoke about how he wants the football. And to be fair to him, he has always been a main weapon since he and Kenny Pickett got together. He says, 'just get me the football', but they have not always had that opportunity. And the play calling hasn't always helped.

I don't know the last time they were an explosive offense, maybe with Ben Roethlisberger. But they are still kind of a fun team to watch because it's like 'we are going to fight for every single thing we do' and everything seems hard. If you are doing that week in and week out as a player, it will grind and wear on you.

But to Tomlin that is perfect. Bring it again. That is almost the mentality. I remember some of my friends played in Pittsburgh and they would say that even preseason is one of the toughest and most physical preseasons they have been a part of.

Johnson (18) makes a catch against the Bengals
Image: Johnson (18) makes a catch against the Bengals

Tomlin knows his players. He is really good with his relationships. I don't think that would be the first time they have seen it with Johnson, but maybe that was the most public form of seeing it there has been. If you look through the film there are probably other clips of not giving 100-per-cent effort, but that would definitely be the worst.

But Tomlin will have found a way to manage it. I just think it is a really poor reflection, especially when you are this late in the season.

When I was with the Buffalo Bills we had Lorenzo Alexander and Kyle Williams as two locker room leaders. If they spoke, you listened and it was great because you had a veteran player on each side of the ball to be able to do that. Kyle was part of the fabric in Buffalo and Lorenzo was a guy who you knew would step up and he was close with Sean McDermott in terms of being those ears in the locker room and being able to have that honest and genuine conversation.

Those types of players in the locker room are huge. You think about TJ Watt in Pittsburgh, and then somebody like Minkah Fitzpatrick is also a big part of that. He was the one who got into the argument with Johnson, he went up and addressed the situation and you need those players to do that.

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When it comes from a peer, it means so much more and it carries so much more weight because you have got the whole team behind those leaders. You might have one or two guys talking to you, but it's the whole team that is going to back that. You become the outlier.

Those guys are imperative to the success of a team and we have seen it with other teams who don't have strong leadership. They don't have those veteran players who will rally everybody together when things fall apart.

Johnson apologised to his team-mates, he had to. I think he needed accountability, which means literally going to the front of the room and saying 'that's my bad'. The team would have been looking for that from him, for him to kind of bring down his walls.

It is about having that conversation and then proving that with the work that he does day in and day out. Is this guy going above and beyond now? Or alternatively, does he not care? Has he checked out? What are those next steps for him?

That is completely on Johnson to be able to decide what that looks like going forward.

The Steelers somehow sit 7-4 and firmly in the playoff hunt in the AFC. I think it's a combination of Tomlin and that defense. When you have guys like TJ Watt stepping up each week and still giving maximum effort to do everything he can to win for that team, it is hard to give up on somebody. It goes back to belief in your players and leaders on your team.

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