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JuJu Smith-Schuster is learning to line up in the backfield, play every position

In his interview yesterday, the Steelers receiver may have given another clue that the offense is adopting a lot of Matt Canada’s schemes.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

“Now he’ll want to get paid as a running back as well.” There, I made the obligatory Le’Veon Bell joke so you don’t have to. You’re Welcome.

In his press conference Monday JuJu Smith-Schuster was asked about the things he can control outside of physical training. His answer included the following quote:

For me it’s more so just knowing the offense to a better standard. I would say last year I knew outside, inside, this year I’m learning to play the backside wide receiver. Being able to play anywhere on the field, in the backfield, as a running back. With all the factors going on, it’s something that I want to master before the season, where I know the whole offensive playbook.

While there is obvious value in knowing what other players are reading and doing on any play, this quote stands out more when you consider a quote from Diontae Johnson from just under two weeks ago, when he was asked about what Matt Canadacollaborating with Randy Fichtner brought to the offense.

I’m going to do whatever they ask me to do. That’s the main thing. I know it’s new stuff. I’m still learning all of new motions and stuff, stuff he’s brought over to us. I wouldn’t say it’s tough, but it’s something you have to put your mind to and want to learn it. Like I said, I’m going to go out there do whatever it takes to help those two guys win.

One of the keys to Matt Canada’s offense anywhere he’s been has been players that can line up at different positions and provide threat. If JuJu Smith-Schuster can line up as a running back and James Conner can line up as a wingback or slot receiver and the team can trust both of them to make the right reads, that creates problems for the defense.

This isn’t saying JuJu Smith-Schuster is going to get rushes in 2020, I highly doubt that. But they have, in the past, lined up wide receivers at running back in passing situations, Ryan Switzer has done it, and Vance McDonald scored a TD last season on a pass where he started the play lined up as the running back in a shotgun set.

I think this is a clue that the Steelers are adding more than just motion to the offense. If JuJu Smith-Schuster is learning to line up everywhere, even as a running back, then the Steelers may be looking at incorporating some of Canada’s more drastic motions where players don’t just swap sides of the field, but multiple positions swap the roles they are lined up in. In those plays the defense often has less tan a second to process that JuJu Smith-Schuster who was in the slot is now lined up at running back, James Conner moved from running back to a wingback and Eric Ebron from in line on one side of the field to the opposite side slot. You can change the balance of the numbers and completely change defender’s assignments right before the snap.

If the offense can snap the ball, knowing exactly what everyone’s role on the play is, while the defense is trying to figure out who is covering whom, that’s a big advantage for the offense.

You can see the whole JuJu Smith-Schuster interview Here.

As always, stay tuned to Behind the Steel Curtain for all your Steelers news.