Some rookies will shrink to the moment. You’re in the NFL, the highest level of football in the world. And the Pittsburgh Steelers are positively loaded at wide receiver, making it a tough group to crack. So when JuJu Smith-Schuster missed the first few days of practice, and other receivers took his reps, it’s easy to think some self-doubt crept in.
But in the rookie’s mind, it only made him more excited.
“It makes me excited,” he told reporters via Steelers.com. “Why? Because the competition is even better. Everyone is going to play better. This is the best receiver group I’ve been a part of in my career. You have guys who can do all types of things. You have Martavis, you have AB, you have Justin, you have D.A., you have Eli, guys who can play all those positions.
When J-Hunt made two great catches with the one’s, it’s like, ‘man, damn, ok, I gotta step my game up when I come back.’ When Eli Rogers goes in and makes his plays, I gotta step up and do what I gotta do.”
Refreshing is the word to describe Smith-Schuster’s attitude from the moment he was the team’s surprising second round draft pick. Receiver is a position synonymous with diva but there isn’t a hint of that in Smith-Schuster’s body. Selfless and self-motivated, he’s embracing the challenge, and knows whoever plays the best over this next couple of weeks will get to open the season against Cleveland.
“At the end of the day, we’re going to play the best and help us win a Super Bowl.”
Helping Smith-Schuster become the best that he can is Hines Ward, who just started his coaching internship with the Steelers. Throughout practice, you’ll see Ward and Smith-Schuster going over the details of the position. And after practice, they run gassers together.
There’s an obvious comparison of play styles between the two. With Ward’s help and the steady presence of Richard Mann, who deserves endless credit, Smith-Schuster might be playing against his toughest competition ever but is also benefiting from the best coaching he’s ever had.
And that level of competition only forces the cream to rise to the top. The wide receiver room, and by extension the Pittsburgh Steelers, are better off for it.