2019 was a year to forget for JuJu Smith-Schuster. The former second round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers had high aspirations for his play as a No. 1 wide receiver after Antonio Brown jettisoned to the Raiders.
What looked like a promising start to the season became a rocky road in training camp with the death of wide receivers coach Darryl Drake. Drake and Smith-Schuster had a very visible relationship, and Smith-Schuster was clearly troubled by the sudden death of his mentor.
Fast forward to a season which was marred with injuries and miscues, and you could start to feel it. No matter how charismatic and giving Smith-Schuster was in the community, it didn’t matter. It just kept coming. Then, after Smith-Schuster’s heart-wrenching fumble against the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field in overtime cost the team the game, it wasn’t just coming — it engufled No. 19 like a tidal wave.
What is “it”?
The vitriol and anger of the Steelers fan base.
Sure, there were fans who had Smith-Schuster’s back, but the vast majority saw a young player who spent all of his free time playing video games and worrying more about his dog’s Instagram account than working out and honing his craft.
Let’s be honest, Antonio Brown was the gold standard for both work ethic and production while in Pittsburgh. He just happened to go off the deep end on his way out of the door. Brown would post relentless workout videos of him getting therapy, working out at all times of the day and showing the laser focus of a perennial All-Pro.
Fans might forget it now, but Antonio Brown was beloved by the Steelers fan base until the very end of the road.
When they put the two receivers together in comparison, Smith-Schuster’s easy going lifestyle and fun-loving ways weren’t enough. At least not when he wasn’t producing the way many fans expected.
Did I mention he battled through a foot injury early in the season followed by both a knee injury and concussion? How about having to catch passes from two backup quarterbacks in Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges? Both are true, but that didn’t deter the fan base from gathering their pitch forks and torches, prepared to call Smith-Schuster a bum and wanting him out of town.
Well, it seems as if Smith-Schuster got the message.
No, he didn’t stop playing video games, or making money doing so. But he has been much more open about his workouts and his overall approach to the game recently. He hasn’t changed his ways, but is showing fans he is much more than a gamer, and does have a desire to be the best wide receiver he can be.
I doubt Smith-Schuster is new to hiring a personal trainer and getting one-on-one workouts, but this is the first time he is showing it on social media. He doesn’t have to show his workouts, but I’m sure he has been feeling the heat, reading the comments and seeing his notifications of fans wanting more from him.
As we have discussed on several podcasts for the site, Smith-Schuster gets the game. He understands the social media aspect of the NFL better than most players. He knows when to talk, when to send a message with just a photo and when to just stay away and be quiet. Smith-Schuster hasn’t gone away, but he sure has decreased his time sharing his life on social media.
I think it is safe to say Smith-Schuster has gotten the message loud and clear, but whether this results in increased production in 2020 has yet to be seen.