JuJu Smith-Schuster has barely played for the Pittsburgh Steelers so far this preseason. According to Pro Football Focus, his total snap count through two games matches his jersey number: 19. That ranks him as tied for logging the 25th-most snaps on the offensive side of the ball for the Steelers so far this year.
But boy has he made them count. He has logged 10 snaps on passing plays and been targeted twice. He has caught both of those targets and taken both of them for touchdowns, one in each game. The first he snagged for a catch-and-run of 71 yards. The other was comparatively easy with a four-yard red zone ladder-climber for six.
The second-year wide receiver missed a lot of the spring with a knee injury, and perhaps is even being monitored as something of a pitch count for all I know, but when he has been given the opportunity to perform, he has done so at a high level. I guess that’s inevitable when you average one touchdown per target.
Said the young man during Thursday night’s preseason game against the Green Bay Packers, “year two is so much easier, [but] obviously the competition is a lot harder because other teams know how I play. But I’m super excited because I’m just happy to be here. I’m having so much fun, and it’s always lit”.
It’s a short answer that I think encapsulates Smith-Schuster’s mixture of youth and maturity well. He understands exactly what he has to do but also has the fresh eyes to actually appreciate the journey along the way. Serious when he needs to, fun when he can be.
He is of course just one of two young wide receivers that the Steelers envision making up the core complements to All-World superstar receiver Antonio Brown, with rookie second-round pick James Washington flashing big-play potential in a big way.
Both of them have two touchdown receptions apiece this preseason, in fact accounting for four of the five touchdown passes that have been thrown by the Steelers so far if I’m not mistaken, the other going to rookie undrafted free agent Damoun Patterson, who had a much quieter game two.
Smith-Schuster should get a much more extended look for the Steelers in their next preseason game, the third, which is used by virtually every team in the league as a tune-up simulation for the regular season. It is the game in which the starters play the longest, or at all in the cases of some, such as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger or Brown.
After seemingly having it easy as a rookie, Smith-Schuster knows that he is going to have a bigger target on his back in year two. He knows he’s going to have to work harder for what he gets. But it’s a challenge that he’s ready for.