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JuJu: 'I love how close we are'

Sometimes it takes a few years for players to appreciate what they have in Pittsburgh.

Sometimes, it takes leaving, going elsewhere to understand how good they had it, so much so that they want to come back.

And sometimes, it takes no time at all.

When JuJu Smith-Schuster, the Steelers' second-round draft selection in 2017, received the "Joe Greene Great Performance Award" at the end of last season he said he wanted to retire in the black and gold.

The reason, was simple. He appreciates it.

"It's just the culture and how much not just the coaching staff does, but everybody in this building," said Smith-Schuster. "The love we have for the game, it brings us that much closer. And the fans are amazing. Pittsburgh is a pretty dope city.

"I love how close we are. How we can connect with everyone, in every room, in football and in every aspect of life, on and off the field. We go through hard times. In five games we were down, and we fought back because of the guys we have here."

Smith-Schuster said it was that closeness, that bond with his teammates that helped him throughout his rookie year. The veterans were always teaching, sharing tips, and just helping him to adjust to life in the NFL for a young player, and that includes taking care of yourself. Smith-Schuster was accustomed to the life of a college student, staying up late and playing video games through the night. But when you have to be at the practice facility early in the morning, late nights just don't work.

"You have too much time on your hands," said Smith-Schuster. "Staying up every night playing video games at 2 a.m. and not getting enough sleep. The toughest part is having so much time on your hands. Just to perform better you need to get your eight hours of sleep.

"It's a long season taking care of your body. In college you played about 10-12 games depending on your season. Being a rookie, they talk about the rookie wall. It's a long season. Learning from the older guys made it easier."

It was those older guys that showed him how to knock down that rookie wall. 

"It's just mentally," said Smith-Schuster. "Physically you can't do much. The rookie wall is just a mental process of staying focused and positive and moving forward."

Moving forward. That is a key for him during offseason workouts. For Smith-Schuster it's taking what he learned last year and applying it to other aspects of his game, including his route running.

"The biggest growth in my game this year was mentally," said Smith-Schuster. "Being able to dissect, read coverages, basically everything that I have learned, plays, working with the other guys and their tendencies. Learning the whole playbook.

"Now I want to work on my route running to keep getting better.

"The talent on this offense, it's ridiculous. We have so much potential to get where we want to get."

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