Few rookies have taken Pittsburgh by storm the way JuJu Smith-Schuster have. Not only as an on-field product, Smith-Schuster was awfully impressive but others have done similar before him, but how he immediately became a fan-favorite. Watch him trot down onto the field for practice all day and “JuJu!” is all you hear. Kids implore him to do the “backpack dance,” (this, for all of us old folk), and JuJu usually gives in. After all, he’s a kid at heart and basically a kid at age, still only 21.
CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora had a nice feature piece highlighting Smith-Schuster’s fun rookie season. Pittsburgh, despite being on the East Coast, far from home, was the perfect place for him to land. A place he could be himself, not a stuffy, work-first and work-only mentality like some organizations. Smith-Schuster credits that coming from the top, head coach Mike Tomlin.
“Mike Tomlin, man, is one of the realest coaches out there,” Smith-Schuster told La Canfora. “He keeps everything real; he keeps it 100. He doesn’t lie to you. He doesn’t sugarcoat anything. And that’s what I like about him. With him, he kind of just told me straight from the get go,’ I’ve had a lot of guys like you.'”
Personalities certainly run big in the Steelers locker room. Le’Veon Bell, who Smith-Schuster said took him under his wing, and Antonio Brown have as big a presence off the field as they do on it. JuJu is in the same boat, not shying away from his age, his previous lack of a driver’s license, or downright kid-like fandom for online gamers like Ninja. Get a load of this dorky photo.
Building a brand has been important to him and he’s been able to maintain his sincerity while doing it. His Youtube, Instagram, and social media following is through the roof, nearly 2.5 million followers total if you add all three up.
While he possesses that care-free attitude, Smith-Schuster proved to be serious about football too. Ben Roethlisberger made sure of it, testing him early on. Roethlisberger would throw purposely “bad” balls in practice just to see how the rookie would respond.
“Can he go up for balls? Can he catch over this back shoulder? Can he catch over a defender? How is he catching in traffic? Just a lot of those, and trying to adjust to my body.”
Now, Smith-Schuster is expected to continue that big impact into 2018, heightened by trading Martavis Bryant and replacing him with rookie James Washington, whose play is still a total unknown. According to the article, Smith-Schuster hired a speed coach to conduct “top-secret” drills. Hopefully that work pays off. He’ll be playing more of the “Z” receiver spot in addition to the slot, so he’ll need to be more successful winning on the outside against bigger and faster corners.