I teased it earlier this week, but during Sunday’s game the Pittsburgh Steelers really began to show how they think about rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and the sort of versatility that he can bring to the offense, providing mismatches. This hasn’t translated into a lot of production yet—three catches on four targets for 19 yards and a touchdown—but it will come.
More significant is the fact that they are using him in a variety of ways. He lined up as a tight end three times, once in the backfield, and was asked to pull or was sent in motion on a number of occasions. In addition, he saw quite a mixture of work both on the outside and in the slot.
Remember that fourth-and-one play in the middle of the first quarter when the offense drew an encroachment penalty for a first down? That wasn’t the weirdest aspect of the play. If you’ll notice, that wasn’t Le’Veon Bell in the backfield. That was JuJu. The Steelers ran out of the 01 personnel the play before and left them out there to try to bait the offense, and it worked.
Early in the second quarter, the rookie was lined up in the right slot pre-snap before motioning to the left side, settling in at the left outside tight end position. He pulled on the play only to see the shovel pass come his way, following a pulling Ramon Foster and lowering the shoulder to punch it into the end zone.
About halfway through the quarter, you can get a look at Smith-Schuster being asked to block downfield, something Mike Wallace recently reminded us that not all wide receivers exactly embrace. The play didn’t work up to his level, but Bell would have been appreciative of his efforts if it had.
The rookie was back at tight end late in the quarter during the two-minute drill. Notice Jesse James in the same spot on the opposite end of the field. While he did not see a target on this play, you can gather the potential mismatch this could create.
Of course, then there was the play most were talking about. Set bunched tight to the right, Smith-Schuster was asked to pull on this play and he simply dominated the safety crashing in hard to play the run. The two-time Pro Bowl safety.
The longest reception of his career to date came on second and five with under five minutes to play, the Steelers just killing clock. Xavier Rhodes got injured on the previous play and had to check out, so the offense took advantage and he was able to get to the outside of Trae Waynes to pick up the first down.
The coaching staff is really putting a lot on the 20-year-old’s plate, but everybody in the organization, including Ben Roethlisberger, seems to be happy with where he is so far mentally. That should keep him playing, and with more reps will some more targets, and more consistency.