It might only be football in shorts season and thus in the grand scheme of things it might not mean too terribly much, but the early progress reports on Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, the team’s second-round draft pick this year out of USC, seem to be very favorable.
Aditi Kinkhabwala of the NFL Network was present for the Steelers Wednesday OTA practice and she filed a video report afterwards.
“He’s getting a ton of work in the slot right now,” Kinkhabwala said. “He talks about his physicality and I asked him today: How can you show how physical you are if all you’re doing is playing in shorts? He said, ‘I can make those tough catches over the middle.’ And from what we hear from his teammates, that’s exactly what he’s doing. He’s being really dependable in the red-zone, he’s someone that Ben Roethlisberger is already creating some sort of rapport with.”
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about Smith-Schuster working in the slot this offseason and it will be interesting to see if that trend ultimately continues when the Steelers start training camp in Latrobe. While there’s still currently no reason to think he’ll open the 2017 regular season as a starter, one can easily speculate that the Steelers would like to get him involved in the offense in some capacity sooner rather than later.
As for Smith-Schuster already building some sort a rapport with Ben Roethlisberger, I’m sure the quarterback will downplay that the next time he’s asked about the rookie’s offseason progress as he has a history of not wanting his young wide receivers to get a big head until they prove they can play in actual NFL game.
Kinkhabwala went on to say that Smith-Schuster indicated Wednesday that he likes to catch 240 balls from the Jugs machine after practice every day and that he does them in sets of 20, and that if he drops one, he restarts the set. Is this uncommon? Probably not and I imagine Smith-Schuster isn’t the only Steelers wide receiver working on the Jugs machine after practice.
Kinkhabwala went on to report on a few other things that Smith-Schuster likes to do after his daily on-the-field work is complete.
“Every day after practice he watches every play three times,” Kinkhabwala said. “He told us that he first watches the whole entire play, then he focuses in on the offense and then the third thing he does is watch exactly what Antonio Brown does.”
As for how much hyperbole is involved here, we don’t know. After all, these are the kinds of things one would hope to hear about a wide receiver that was drafted in the second-round during the offseason practices.
The Steelers will wrap up their annual OTA practices on Thursday and then their mandatory minicamp will follow next week. The coaches always like to remind us that these offseason practices are for instruction only and that no jobs are won or loss during this time of year. Smith-Schuster will obviously make the Steelers 53-man roster this year and we’ll have to wait and see how he performs during training camp when the team trades in their shorts for pads.