After returning nine kickoffs during his rookie season for a team-high 240 yards and a touchdown, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster revealed on Wednesday that he expects to retain that job in 2018.
“Yeah, for sure, well, I mean, I don’t know about the new rules,” Smith-Schuster said Wednesday afternoon after being asked if he’ll be the team’s kickoff returner in 2018. “It’s pretty scary but, yeah, something I’ll be doing.”
The second-year wide receiver out of USC was then asked to explain what it is about the new kickoff rules that makes the job that much more scarier now.
“You got no blockers,” Smith-Schuster said before giving a funny vocal vote of confidence to running back James Conner, who was right next to him during his interview as the two have side-by-side locker room stalls. “But it’s just like there’s like a big 20-yard gap where like they can like squib it and pooch kick it. But I don’t know, it’s gonna be difficult.”
The new kickoff rules that were passed this offseason by the league include quite a few modifications. To best illustrate the rule changes, I highly advise you watch the video below provided by the NFL Football Operations Department that describes each change.
— NFL Football Operations (@NFLFootballOps) June 6, 2018
As you can see in the video, the fact that the team returning the kickoff must now have at least 8 players within the 15-yard setup zone and at the most, three players deep, will likely make it even harder for kickoff returners to get yardage and especially now that blocks can’t happen until the football either touches the ground or is touched by a player.
Smith-Schuster’s kickoff return for a touchdown last season was good for 96-yards and came with 10:42 left in the third quarter of the regular season finale against the Cleveland Browns. It was the first kickoff returned for a touchdown by a Steelers player since wide receiver Antonio Brown returned one 89 yards for a score in 2010 against the Tennessee Titans.
During his college career at USC, Smith-Schuster only returned 16 kickoffs for 185 yards and no scores over a span of three seasons.