PITTSBURGH: Don’t get it twisted. Life remains to be very a lot lit for JuJu Smith-Schuster. A fast scan of the Pittsburgh Steelers vast receiver’s hyperactive social media accounts gives all of the proof required.
There’s the soon-to-be 24-year-old hawking pizza. There he’s TikToking on the midfield star on the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium. There he’s rocking his personal line of merchandise, together with sweatshirts that includes Boujee, his Instagram-famous French bulldog.
The off-the-field model is stronger than ever for Smith-Schuster. Just don’t assume it interferes together with his day job.
For all of the good-natured look-at-me-ness Smith-Schuster embodies, beneath is a participant who has deftly prevented being labeled a diva and all the luggage that comes together with it (see Brown, Antonio).
Developing a status as one of many NFL’s hardest gamers at his place helps. Sure, rookie Chase Claypool has grow to be the field-flipper for the league’s solely unbeaten staff and Diontae Johnson’s pedigree and fast toes are paying homage to early-2010s Brown.
Smith-Schuster stays first amongst equals for the Steelers (9-0).
While his numbers 54 receptions for 516 yards and 5 touchdowns are modest in comparison with his breakout 2018 when he had 111 receptions, Smith-Schuster has grow to be Ben Roethlisberger’s safety blanket. If it’s third down, the ball might be going to the 6-foot-1, 215-pound participant who doesn’t keep away from contact however welcomes it.
Twice within the second half of final week’s victory over Cincinnati, Smith-Schuster caught a third-down cross in need of the sticks and bulled his method for a primary down. Both drives led to touchdowns. Roethlisberger doesn’t assume it’s a coincidence.
I’ve 100 % confidence that hes going to discover a option to get the primary down, Roethlisberger mentioned. Hes only a competitor. He is so enjoyable to play with. Im so pleased with him. Hes not placing up gaudy numbers like he has in years previous, however the issues that he’s doing (are) simply as essential for his offense and this staff as in any yr that he has completed.
Smith-Schuster arrived in Pittsburgh in 2017 because the league’s youngest participant and shortly turned a fan favourite for each his precocious play and the child-like pleasure he delivered to the whole lot he did, whether or not it was being taught how one can drive by left deal with Alejandro Villanueva or pleading for somebody to return his stolen bicycle.
A yr later he was within the Pro Bowl, profiting from the eye opposing defenses paid to Brown to rack up 1,426 yards receiving. The honeymoon didn’t final. Brown pouted his method out of city and Roethlisberger spent nearly all of final season on injured reserve after tearing three flexor tendons in his proper elbow.
Smith-Schuster had bother staying wholesome himself, and his modest manufacturing (42 receptions) whereas catching passes from backups Mason Rudolph and Devlin Duck Hodges led to an offseason through which the Steelers didn’t supply him a contract extension.
Yet Smith-Schuster brushed apart the notion of sitting out 2020 even after Pittsburgh took Claypool within the second spherical, hinting they is likely to be transferring on from their younger star.
Instead, Smith-Schuster welcomed the notion of turning into the elder statesman in a bunch of 20-somethings that features Claypool, Johnson and James Washington.
When defenses positioned a lot of their deal with him early within the season, Smith-Schuster willingly turned a decoy and helped Claypool and Johnson work on their finish zone celebrations.
Though he has the pace to get down the sector, he has gleefully accepted understanding of the slot and thriving amid a sea of linebackers and safeties, significantly in these moments when the Steelers completely want one thing to occur.
I embrace these moments. Im hoping the ball can come my method, Smith-Schuster mentioned. “I pray the ball can come my method. I simply need to make performs. … Everybody on the staff, they need to make a play for the offense. For me, how I view it’s, you make performs on third down, you receives a commission.
And Smith-Schuster is within the technique of incomes himself a big elevate subsequent spring. Whether these checks are cashed in Pittsburgh or not stays to be seen. The Steelers produce other priorities particularly, engaged on an extension for outdoor linebacker T.J. Watt and Smith-Schuster’s play may worth him out of the town that in some methods has helped elevate him.
Smith-Schuster is taking nothing as a right. Three years into his profession, he nonetheless hasn’t been on a staff that’s gained a playoff recreation.
For all his ubiquity on social media, he has discovered a method to verify he doesn’t take away the shine of the receivers he’s taken underneath his nonetheless very younger wing. The Steelers are planning to depend on Smith-Schuster’s maturity because the stakes get greater.
Hes like a giant brother to them, if not perhaps father, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner mentioned. Thats loads on a man who such as you mentioned is 23, however he has been right here. Hes seen loads. He can provide again loads. I keep in mind (former Steelers vast receiver) Hines (Ward) and the way a lot he needed to all the time give again to the youthful gamers. Thats simply that essential to do, and JuJu is doing it similar to a variety of nice veterans, in Pittsburgh no less than, do it.
NOTES: DB Mike Hilton (shoulder) practiced for a second consecutive day on Thursday, clearing the best way for him to return following a four-game absence. … Backup DT Isaiah Buggs (ankle) additionally practiced.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL