For a rookie, when you make a significant play for your team and get punished for it, you might think twice about attempting such a play in the future.
This certainly could be true for Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster who is coming off a one-game suspension for his vicious block on Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict in the team’s Week 13 win on Monday Night Football. Nonetheless, upon his return, Smith-Schuster has vowed he won’t change his style of play because of the suspension.
"I'm not going to change my game," Smith-Schuster told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler on Wednesday. “That’s not me.”
While Smith-Schuster isn’t going to change the physical nature he brings to the game, he does realize he needs to make some adjustments to save him from further fines or suspensions from the league office.
"I am still playing physical," Smith-Schuster said. "That's not gonna stop my game. And that's how I've always been, since I was a kid. Keep moving forward, I am still going to make those blocks. Yes, I am going to be more careful. I'm going to aim for the shoulder and lower, just be more protective of the game."
With this being the first time Smith-Schuster was able to speak to the media since after the Monday night game in Week 13, he told reporters he didn’t even know the player he hit was Burfict until after the fact.
"'Oh, wow, that's Burfict,'" Smith-Schuster said he thought to himself. "And I looked at him and I was [like], 'Oh, damn.' That's when I realized, 'Here we go.'"
Smith-Schuster did say he regretted standing over top of Burfict after the hit; however, he doesn’t regret making the play. As he stated multiple times, he was trying to make a play to help spring Le’Veon Bell for a big gain, and that isn’t something he is going to stop anytime in the near future.
Say what you want about the taunting call, but the hit itself is a part of football. If Smith-Schuster’s comments show anything it is how he realizes his game needs to change, and he needs to adjust, to keep himself on the field with his teammates.
The Steelers were able to win their Week 14 game against the Baltimore Ravens, and the AFC North championship in the process, without Smith-Schuster, but he was certainly missed in a multitude of ways. Not only has Smith-Schuster become a reliable target for Ben Roethlisberger, but his blocking has been a huge part of the running game.
As the dust finally settles on this situation, Smith-Schuster has just one thing on his mind, and that is wondering when Antonio Brown is going to pony up the money he lost for his suspension.
"He still owes me for my fine," said Smith-Schuster, who lost 1/17th of his $465,000 salary, or $27,352. "I'm going to try to get him [Wednesday]."