He might be young, he might be fun and playful, but when it comes to football, when it comes the nitty gritty of what he does, JuJu Smith-Schuster is growing into a leadership role that can’t be denied.
And the refreshing thing is, it’s happening because of what he brings to the table.
Smith-Schuster is a worker. When he is on the field, he is laser focused. He is intelligent, knowing the offense. And he knows what is expected of him, that others are looking at him to be productive, to be a mainstay for the offense.
“For me it’s my third year. Guys have played more years in the league,” said Smith-Schuster, who doesn’t tout the role, but others definitely acknowledge it. “But I want to be more vocal, speaking up in the group. Everybody in the (receivers) room is a leader. If they want to say something, they can say whatever they want. Being a leader by making plays on the field and speaking up.”
Smith-Schuster is the team’s No. 1 receiver, the guy who every defensive coordinator on the Steelers schedule is going to be focused on this season after Antonio Brown was traded to the Oakland Raiders this offseason. He knows defenses will be locked in on him as the team is losing Brown’s production, but he also knows it’s not just him out there, that the offense is loaded with talent that can all step up and help.
“All those catches, all those yards, we have to spread it out,” said Smith-Schuster. “Ryan Switzer, (Donte) Moncrief, our new receiver, Diontae (Johnson), those catches, those yards will be made up with wide receivers, running backs, tight ends, everybody. It’s not just one person. We have to spread the ball around more.
“Other guys in the room are going to have to step up and I think they are capable of doing that. All of the offensive positions have to make their plays, if they are doubling me or Moncrief. Other guys are going to have to step up. Kind of like what they did with AB and I stepped in and made my plays. I am super excited. The competition, I am ready for all of that.”
Smith-Schuster isn’t trying to be the player Brown was, but instead is focused on continuing to play his game, a game that earned him team MVP honors last year.
“I am the person who plays all the way around, inside, outside,” said Smith-Schuster, who said there are no hard feelings against Brown despite the fact that there were some negative comments directed at him by Brown on social media after the season. “You guys have seen me play. Inside and outside. We have the opportunity to go five-wide. That is what is great about our room this year. We have guys who can play everywhere, not just one position. We are not centering off one person. Everybody can make their plays, tight ends, running backs, receivers.
“We believe in each other. I think this year our chemistry, in the locker room, everyone is all in together. It’s a difference when there are no individuals, it’s a Steelers team. That is what we have here. That is special. The chemistry we have. We are the Steelers, there are expectations to go to the playoffs and win games.”