A lot of people did not agree with the Pittsburgh Steelers that the wide receiver group was a position of need after word came through that Martavis Bryant was conditionally reinstated and on track to return to the field in 2017 after missing the entire 2016 season due to an indefinite suspension stemming from multiple failed drug tests.
Those who felt most strong about that also seemed to be those most opposed to the selection of wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster by the Steelers in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Where will he fit in between Antonio Brown and Bryant, they likely asked. The majority response came back, ‘in the slot’.
That’s not a given though, at least not just yet, so we’ll have to watch as things unfold and see how much he can handle and how fast he can pick things up. He spent most of his time at USC playing on the outside even though he did accrue some experience in the slot.
Smith-Schuster’s versatility to play multiple roles is something that attracted the Steelers to him. That doesn’t mean that they’re going to throw the entire playbook at the 20-year-old all at once, however, according to offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
Entering his sixth season as the Steelers’ offensive coordinator, Haley has slowly transformed this offense into the sort of attack that we see today that still keeps a healthy dose of deep balls, but does so more selectively—and yet still more than everybody else.
He recently sat down with Missi Matthews for an interview via the team’s website and she asked Haley about throwing a lot at a rookie wide receiver. There are obvious implications for Smith-Schuster in the answer, even though he was not directly addressed.
“We would not do that to somebody”, he said about throwing multiple positions at a player all at once. “You want them learning one position first, and they’ll kind of guide us as far as being able to do more”.
It seems wise to leave it up to the player to be the guide as to what he can handle, both logically and, according to Haley, based on prior experience. “We’ll give him one position”, he said, “and you’ll know the guys that are pretty comfortable not only from how they practice and looking like they know what to do and how to do it, but they’re also usually guys that are knocking on Coach Mann’s door saying ‘hey, can I look at this position or gets some reps at that’”.
Maybe I’m projecting my own perceptions of the player on to him, but I have a pretty good feeling that Smith-Schuster would be exactly the sort of player who would seek out additional words of wisdom and coaching from any source that he could.
He developed into a 19-year-old team leader at USC, but here, he has so much to soak in. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he takes advantage of that opportunity and it helps accelerate his growth into a player who can help the team at multiple positions at wide receiver early on.