Smith-Schuster’s Maturation Likely Will Lead To Even Greater Versatility

Not that it was much of a secret at the time, but in the wake of his attention-grabbing block on Vikings Pro Bowl safety Harrison Smith during Sunday’s game, Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley acknowledged on Thursday that the physical aspect that he is able to bring to the game is one of the reasons that they were interested in wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.

When he talks about the block—and only because he keeps getting asked the questions—he simply says that it is part of his job. Evidently job descriptions for wide receivers can vary, since Mike Wallace clearly seems to think that his says nothing about blocking.

But of course, that is the mentality that he brings to the position, which is frankly pretty rare, and probably only becoming more so over the course of time as the game continues to evolve at the lower levels, where even the tight ends are becoming more like wide receivers and the wide receivers are becoming…less interested in being touched.

I am very curious to see how Smith-Schuster’s snap expenditure is divided as we get deeper and deeper into the season, as the coaching staff is certainly demonstrating a potential ambition to use him in a variety of ways that is not necessarily the norm for a wide receiver.

As I have already mentioned on a couple of occasions over the course of the past couple of days, the Steelers used Smith-Schuster in both running back and tight end alignments during Sunday’s game, and they also asked him to pull or to go in motion at the snap on a number of occasions.

Considering that he is a 20-year-old rookie who obviously still has a lot to learn, I think it is a fairly reasonable assumption that the team could envision expanding his role and versatility even further, likely logging even more snaps in a quasi-tight-end role.

They like his size and physicality as a slot option because of what he can bring to the table not just in the passing game, but also in the running game. If he is matched up against a small cornerback, then he can clearly out-muscle him as a blocker. If they should counter with a safety or a linebacker, he could beat them more easily in coverage.

There was another player later in that game on which the Steelers asked him to pull and Smith came crashing down the right side again, but this time he decided to avoid Smith-Schuster, which I think is pretty telling that a rookie could earn that modicum of respect off of basically one play.

Of course, he still has a lot more to prove. He so far has the same number of receptions as he does penalties—three apiece—but in the meantime, every little thing that he can contribute helps to not only keep him on the active roster, but in the game and logging time, gaining experience, which will serve well later on.

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