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Steelers News: JuJu Smith-Schuster and Hines Ward comparisons are lofty, but true

Time to check on the latest news surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

NFL: AFC Divisional Playoff-Jacksonville at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers have now won six straight games and continue to “stack wins.” After their 20-16 come from behind win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 11, the team now has to turn the page quickly before they travel again, this time to Denver to play the Broncos in Week 12.

Today in the Black-and-gold links article, we talk about how Steelers’ second year wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is drawing some rave reviews for his physicality and willingness to block. What kind of comparisons? Try being compared to arguably the best blocking wide receiver to play the game in the modern era — Hines Ward.

But this comparison didn’t come from me, but from Mike Tomlin, who is very hesitant to praise his players, especially young players. So, take that for what it’s worth...

Let’s get to the news:

Steelers’ JuJu Smith-Schuster draws Hines Ward comparisons

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

JuJu Smith-Schuster turns 22 on Thanksgiving. On Tuesday, his coach gave him something to be thankful for.

The gift of high praise.

During his weekly news conference, Mike Tomlin was asked about the continued emergence of Smith-Schuster in his second NFL season.

Tomlin compared Smith-Schuster to the most accomplished receiver he has coached, one of the legends in Pittsburgh Steelers history.

“He’s Hines Ward-like,” was part of what Tomlin said of Smith-Schuster.

Really? Ward, as in the player who recorded 1,000 career catches, earned Super Bowl MVP honors and was a two-time Super Bowl champion?

“I realize what I said when I said that,” Tomlin said. “But this guy enjoys it. He’s embracing it, and I think it helps us. I don’t know that we’ve had a guy that I can even make that loose comparison to.”

That includes, apparently, Antonio Brown, Smith-Schuster’s teammate who is a four-time first-team All-Pro.

After Smith-Schuster’s eight-catch, 104-yard effort during Sunday’s come-from-behind 20-16 victory at Jacksonville, the second-year receiver was the recipient of effusive raves not only from his coach but from his quarterback.

During his weekly radio segment on 93.7 FM on Tuesday, Ben Roethlisberger affirmed Smith-Schuster is “becoming a big-time player right in front of our eyes.”

“He’s becoming a big-time receiver, making plays,” Roethlisberger said. “I’ll say it again, how proud I am. I really think he’s one of the main reasons we won that game.

“He made plays for us when we needed him to make plays for us. I told him (Monday) night when I texted him, ‘Thank you for being special and keep doing it.’ ”

Roethlisberger referenced the Steelers moving Smith-Schuster from his more customary slot position to the outside, where he was matched up against All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey or Pro Bowl corner A.J. Bouye.

“It didn’t matter who it was (against),” Roethlisberger said, “… he did it.”

What was perhaps most eyebrow-raising was how much Roethlisberger looked to Smith-Schuster — and not, among others, Brown — when the game was on the line.

During the Steelers’ final three drives, they scored 14 points and accumulated 160 yards of offense in a combined 7 minutes, 49 seconds. Roethlisberger targeted Smith-Schuster seven times over that span, completing six for 88 yards.

Roethlisberger completed seven passes for 73 yards to the rest of the team, including two for 24 yards to Brown.

“What makes (Smith-Schuster) special is he’s still working and trying to be better,” Roethlisberger said. “He’s not satisfied, and he’s not going to let his play fall off. We’ll keep challenging him and pushing him and see what we can get from him.”

Tomlin laughed off the significance of moving Smith-Schuster around in the offensive formation, pointing out the Steelers did that last year when he was a rookie.

“That was one of the things that really kind of made him attracted to us: his football intelligence, maturity beyond his years,” Tomlin said of Smith-Schuster, a 2017 second-round pick. “He played inside and out at USC, so I’m not going to pretend like we’re splitting the atom.”

Steelers, players make donation to Boys & Girls Club

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Mike Tomlin opened his weekly news conference with something that didn’t involve the Pittsburgh Steelers’ most recent or upcoming opponent.

“I’d like to start first with an announcement,” Tomlin said. “One that I am really excited about.”

A group of Steelers players had visited the Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania to present a donation, the team’s first as part of the NFL’s Social Justice Grant program.

“I have been really impressed with our guys approach to this, their level of participation,” Tomlin said.

“Being a former Boys Club kid, and understanding the quality services and opportunities that they provide young people, I am honored to say that and really impressed by that participation.”

Brian Allen, Anthony Chickillo, Mike Hilton, Tyler Matakevich, Jaylen Samuels, T.J. Watt and Mason Rudolph were among the Steelers players who donated to Boys & Girls Club and were part of Tuesday’s presentation of $15,000 from players and the organization.

Steelers president Art Rooney II, via thanking them in a statement released by the team, singled out veterans Ramon Foster, Cameron Heyward and Maurkice Pouncey as the primary players working to identify worthwhile causes.

“We are pleased to join with our players on the Social Justice Initiative to help support important programs in our community,” Rooney II said in the statement. “Our players have always been active in the community, and we received a strong response from our players in supporting these programs.”

The NFL announced in March that each team would match player contributions up to $250,000 per year for community improvement, social justice and law enforcement relationships.

Roethlisberger tries to lighten mood for James Conner after drops vs. Jaguars

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Ben Roethlisberger is not upset that running back James Conner dropped two passes in the fourth quarter Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Apparently neither is Roethlisberger’s son.

The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback said Tuesday on his weekly 93.7-FM radio segment that his son, Benjamin Jr., still wants a Conner jersey for Christmas – along with a Steelers helmet and gloves. Roethlisberger’s son had taken to emulating Conner in games of catch with his dad.

That was the message that Roethlisberger relayed to Conner via text Monday night.

“Obviously, my son doesn’t have any hard feelings toward you,” Roethlisberger said. “You shouldn’t have them toward yourself.”

Roethlisberger said the exchange elicited a positive response from Conner, which was the intention. Roethlisberger doesn’t want the second-year running back to dwell on the drops, particularly since the Steelers still rallied to win the game, 20-16, Sunday afternoon at TIAA Bank Field.

“I want to see how he bounces back,” Roethlisberger said. “I don’t want to see him lose confidence in his hands because I’m not losing confidence in them because he’s been great as a receiver for us. Sometimes those things happen. The best in the world drop balls. It’s going to happen.

“How is he going to bounce back and rebound?”

Conner admittedly was frustrated after the game. He caught six passes for 24 yards, but dropped a pass on fourth-and-6 from the Jacksonville 43 with 6:53 to play and the Steelers trailing 16-6. On the Steelers’ final offensive drive, he dropped a 27-yard touchdown pass with a minute left. Roethlisberger ended up winning the game with his 1-yard run with 0:05 left on the clock.

“I have to catch the next one,” Conner said. “We won the game, that’s the most important thing. As long as we won … had we lost, it would have been a lot worse. I just have to catch the next one.”

Upon returning to the sideline after his touchdown run, Roethlisberger also used levity to make Conner feel better.

“I told him two things,” Roethlisberger said. “One, if you would have caught that and scored, it would have given them a lot more time. And, two, if you would have caught that and scored, I wouldn’t have gotten a rushing touchdowns. I appreciate it. That got a chuckle and laugh out of him.”