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This & That: 'Take his plate and eat off it'

Posted Dec 22, 2017

Fear not, JuJu Smith-Schuster and the receivers won't be stealing Santa's cookies.

Be yourself: The Steelers will be without Antonio Brown on Sunday after he suffered a lower leg injury against the Patriots.

But despite being without the NFL’s leading receiver, the Steelers passing game is still in good hands.

“We will have multiple guys trying to fill that spot,” said Ben Roethlisberger. “We have guys that are excited, willing to try and fill those shoes. I think Justin (Hunter) is going to be one, Martavis (Bryant) will do some stuff, and JuJu (Smith-Schuster). Everyone really is going to have to step their game up, that includes me. I am going to have to be better.”

Smith-Schuster admitted that having Brown on the field is easier for the group, but they still will make it work.

“When AB is out there, the game is a lot easier,” said Smith-Schuster. “Now that he isn’t out there, we have a lot of guys who have to take his plate and eat off of it. Playing with Ben, the game is a lot easier.”

Darrius Heyward-Bey, the veteran of the group who stepped up in a leadership role when Brown went down, said he is confident in the group and that there is one key to making things work.

“I think we are going to react the same way we did on Sunday and two years ago when we didn’t have AB,” said Heyward-Bey. “Everybody has to just step up and play ball. We don’t have to do anything special. We don’t need to be toe dragging and all. Play football, do what got you here, and play smart football. Just be yourself. We have to do that as a group.

“During the game on Sunday I told everybody you are going to play this position, you this, we know what we have to do. Don’t put pressure on yourself. I think we do a good job with that. Coach (Richard) Mann does a good job of that. All during the season, even though AB gets a lot of reps, he always lets everyone know you never know what is going to happen. In that situation we were ready to go.”

Ho, ho, ho: There’s no place like home for the holidays, but this year the Steelers won’t get to experience that as they play the Houston Texans on Christmas Day. It’s the second-straight year the Steelers have played on Christmas, last year defeating the Baltimore Ravens en route to winning the AFC North.

While some players likely would rather be home with family on Christmas, for the most part they understand that it’s part of the job.

“I have been playing on the holidays since college,” said Artie Burns. “From Thanksgiving, to Christmas, to New Years, I got accustomed to it. I will have a chance to spend time with them when I get back. I know families spend the day together, but we will spend our time together and enjoy it, so it isn’t a problem for me.”

The Steelers are accustomed to being in the spotlight this year, and being the only game on at that time will definitely continue that trend.  

“I think it’s cool,” said Heyward-Bey. “It gives you a chance to perform on a big stage. Everyone is home watching. Why not have a good game. For us, since high school you never really had a holiday. You are either going to be practicing or playing, so why not play.”

Family affair: For T.J. Watt, Christmas will mean spending some time with family as his brother, J.J. Watt, is on injured reserve with the Texans. The Watts will have a family dinner on Christmas Eve, but then it will be all about the game on Monday.

J.J. Watt talked about his younger brother during a conference call earlier this week, and was asked about T.J.’s quiet off-the-field demeanor.

“It’s a combination of being a rookie and understanding his place, especially in such a great organization with such great veteran leadership,” said J.J. Watt. “You come in and absorb as much information as you can and keep your mouth shut and go to work. It’s also part of what makes him successful. It’s all about the work, focusing on your job. I think he will come out of the shell. He is one of the funniest guys I know. It will come out at some point. He understands and knows his place.”

T.J., the youngest of the three Watt brothers in the NFL that also includes Chargers fullback Derek Watt, laughed when he heard his brother had a lot to say about him, but quickly said that he is his role model and has learned a lot from him about the way to approach things.

“My first year in the league I just want to be professional and take care of my football side of things,” said T.J. Watt. “I don’t think people care about my personality if I am not performing on the field. I am taking care the field stuff first, and all of that stuff will come later down the road.”  

Getting up to speed: Newly signed back Stevan Ridley is getting a crash course on the Steelers offense, and said getting more and more reps in practice is what is going to benefit him the most.

“I am just willing to do whatever the coaches ask of me,” said Ridley. “I have to come here and dig into the playbook, come in early, stay late. That is part of being a pro. To get the ball in my hands on the practice field, I have to get some reps. I have been playing ball a long time. I just have to work on it and get my nose in the dirt.”