Every single member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, I am certain, is happy to see wide receiver Antonio Brown back on the field after missing the past three weeks due to a calf injury that initially sent him to the hospital.
He has been recovering from that injury as a full-time job since then, doing everything in his power in order to do so, from all varieties of rehabilitation and training methods, even if that means traveling. He spent time working with his friend and former wide receiver Chad Johnson to work on his route running before showcasing it back on the Steelers’ practice field.
And his young starting wide receiver partner, rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster, is highly impressed. After all, he ought to be. The USC product, learning from Lynn Swann as the university’s athletic director, has gotten lessons from Hines Ward and is now working with Brown on a daily basis. He knows what it takes to be great, and it’s not secret. It’s plain, old-fashioned hard work.
And, of course, an abundance of talent, but fortunately, he already seems to have that.
“Just looking at his work ethic and the time he puts in off the field, and the treatment that he does”, said Smith-Schuster, is impressive. “He is flying to all sorts of foreign countries that I don’t even know, plus with the machines he uses, I already knew he was coming back as soon as possible”.
The rookie has actually done quite well filling in during Brown’s absence, so perhaps the lessons have been well-learned. In the Steelers’ last three games during the regular season, he caught 21 passes for over 330 yards and two touchdowns. He even returned a kickoff for a touchdown, becoming the last Steelers player to do so since Brown did on his first NFL touch in 2010.
While throwing water coolers is perhaps not the best example to set for a young wide receiver, it would be hard to argue that everything else Brown does on the field is not exactly what you would want Smith-Schuster to try to emulate. And I do believe there is evidence that he has, particularly in the nuances of his route-running, which is at another level than what he displayed in college already.
But while he has exhibited in full force the very reality of his youth—only have turned 21 in late November—the rookie has also shown a maturity beyond his years, which has been crucial in a season full of drama, some of which has even been centered around him, and not his bicycle.
When he was drafted, Martavis Bryant Tweeted that Smith-Schuster was being drafted to replace Sammie Coates, and not himself (he would turn out to be right). While that was played off, we saw that Bryant does indeed have a tendency to go to a dark place on his own on social media, and it was enough to get him benched for a game midseason as he, again, made comments about the rookie.
And Smith-Schuster handled that entire situation very well, emerging as a starter while not stepping on anybody’s toes. It has purely been his own ability that has catapulted him to where he is now, and set him on a trajectory that promises a very bright future ahead.