If the Pittsburgh Steelers are to successfully adjust to life without Antonio Brown, the efforts of JuJu Smith-Schuster will be critical to their cause in 2019. Tasked with being the team’s number one receiver, the young player will see coverages he has never had to contend with during his first two years in the league, while also having the responsibility of leading his position group.
For a player still only 22-years-old, that is an enormous weight to put on his shoulders, but it appears to be a challenge that Smith-Schuster is more than willing to accept. Speaking to reporters after practice on Wednesday, the former USC product dismissed his age as being a limiting factor in his ability to lead.
“Yeah, it is weird, being 22, but having that many games played, being a role model for that room, I’m pretty sure I can take on that challenge and that’s what I’ve been doing. You know, being the leader and just trying to, you know, contribute like everybody else.”
“With the experience that I’ve played at this point, age is just a number. I’ve played enough games under my belt where I’ll be able to take on this. It’s just another challenge that we’ve got to deal with.”
“I’m already vocal. I’m just vocal just in person, that’s how I am. There’s no need for me to go out of my way and yell at the guys. We’re all adults here. We all know what’s right from wrong. Everyone just works. Everyone has a voice in the room. It’s not just mine.”
“I like to have a little voice. Being a young guy in a room, being 22, I feel like my dog, a French bulldog, you know, just barking at everybody. But at the same time, they’ve got dogs too, so they can bark. I like that role.”
Well aware that he will see increased coverage during his third season in the league without Brown on the other side of the field, Smith-Schuster is sufficiently confident in the talent around him that he expects the team will still be able make plays even if he is covered.
“We dealt with that against the Patriots last year. They doubled me and AB. It wasn’t anything new. This year it’s going to be the same thing. I am going to being getting the same coverages, the double. We’ve got guys like Moncrief, James (Washington), we have the new wide receiver, Diontae. We have so many guys who can make plays. I am not worried about that.”
And when asked for his thoughts about the additions to the wide receiver room this offseason, Smith-Schuster admitted he was impressed with what he had seen from some of the new recruits so far, as well as the other returning receivers.
On Diontae Johnson
“Today, he impressed me a lot today. He caught a couple of balls, Ben told him to come in and he made a couple of plays and he’s doing a good job.”
On James Washington’s progress from year one to year two
“Oh Huge, he’s not jumping every time he goes and catches the ball, he’s running through all his routes. Powerful, strong, his conditioning’s up there, yeah.”
Doing his best to deflect questions about Brown and the comments his former teammate had made this offseason, Smith-Schuster wished AB nothing but the best going forward. Choosing to focus on the players who remain in Pittsburgh, the young receiver believes there is already a better sense of camaraderie in the locker room this year.
“The chemistry is on point. We don’t really have, um, everyone is on the same page and everyone’s communicating. There’s really no, how you say? drama in our locker room.”
The full interview can be seen below: