If JuJu Smith-Schuster can have even half the career Hines Ward did, consider it a success. And it’s Ward helping Smith-Schuster get to that sort of playing career.
In a candid one-on-one with Steelers.com’s Missi Matthews, Ward spoke about what he sees in the Steelers’ second round pick.
“Kid is just willing to learn. He wants to get better each and every day,” Ward told Matthews.
Despite only working with him for the past week, Ward was already well aware of Smith-Schuster’s skillset. While covering Notre Dame football last year, USC’s offensive coordinator and ex-Steeler Tee Martin called Ward up and told him to watch JuJu.
“He said, ‘hey man, I really want you to look at this JuJu kid. Put tape on him,” Ward said, recalling what Martin told him. “He loves to block, he loves to get his face dirty, has great hands, may not have top end speed but you don’t need that. If you’re a great route runner, can catch the ball, and know the game upstairs. I see him having a long and productive career.”
Smith-Schuster is off to an impressive start, even if it’s only been a handful of training camp practices. He’s shown unique body control and hands, able to make difficult catches look easy. He’s been a tenacious blocker in one-on-one drills and even used there in team sessions, once serving as the backside cutoff block on Anthony Chickillo, holding his own.
He was able to get back on the moving train after missing the first few practices with a sprained ankle suffered on the third play of the initial practice. But he came back in a hurry without missing a beat, catching the eye of Ward, teammates, and fans.
“He’s kinda like a big sponge. He’s taking it all in. Each day, he says, ‘what do you think about this?’ To have that opportunity to work hands on with him is super exciting for me.”
I’m sure it’s just excited for Smith-Schuster, ready to embark on his NFL career, beginning with his first game this Friday.