Apparently JuJu Smith-Schuster hasn’t been practicing out on the field during OTAs yet, according to Jacob Klinger, the first source I’ve seen to mention this. There isn’t a reason given, though I’m sure it’s not a big deal. The PennLive reporter notes that the second-year wide receiver has been at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ facility.
I don’t want to speculate, but a common injury at this time of year like a tweaked hamstring could sideline a player from OTAs. In his article, he wrote that the “coaches told the team Smith-Schuster wouldn’t be practicing for a little while”.
Whatever the reason, it has been Marcus Tucker who has gotten to be the beneficiary of Smith-Schuster’s lost snaps in May. The first-year wide receiver told Klinger that the coaches gave him the nod because of his experience in the offense.
“The rest of these guys are kind of newbies so I just figured they weren’t just going to throw those guys in there because they’re not really familiar with what’s going on”, he said. “So I just kind of fell into it”.
That’s still a pretty impressive achievement considering the fact that Tucker, a rookie minicamp tryout invitee two years ago, hasn’t actually ever been on a 53-man roster before. And Darrius Heyward-Bey is the longest-tenured wide receiver on the roster behind Antonio Brown.
From the impression I get, the first-team offense has primarily consisted of Brown, Tucker, and rookie James Washington at the wide receiver position. Klinger also notes that the positions in which they have been lining up indicate that Washington is learning Martavis Bryant’s spot and that Smith-Schuster “seems set to start in the slot whenever he returns to practice”.
Of course, Tucker is a more natural slot receiver, so it’s possible that Smith-Schuster sees more time outside and Washington more time inside when the second-year player returns to practice. Just generally speaking though, it’s certainly interesting to see that Tucker has been given this position. He was essentially their seventh wide receiver a year ago.
That was behind Brown, Bryant, Smith-Schuster, Eli Rogers, Justin Hunter, and Heyward-Bey. All but Bryant and Rogers remains with the team. The former was traded (replaced by Washington in the draft), but the Steelers have indicated they would like to re-sign Rogers once he is healed from his ACL tear. Tucker spent the entire season on the practice squad and is hoping to make the 53-man roster this year.
He has impressed coaches in practice over the past two years, and seems to be viewed as something of a veteran at this point. In his third offseason with the team, that is more experience in the building than all but Brown and Heyward-Bey on the roster at the position.