There isn’t a whole lot, considering that he has only played in 20 NFL games so far, that Pittsburgh Steelers second-year wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster has not been able to achieve that could be reasonably expected of him.
Making it all the more remarkable, of course, is the fact that he is still just 21 years old. Yet while everything has largely been ‘lit’ for him thus far, with a few blemishes here and there along the way, some of his veteran teammates are doing their part to keep him grounded and with the perspective that he still is just at the beginning of his career, and of his learning.
Chief among those veteran players, as you might guess, is Darrius Heyward-Bey, the 10th-year veteran wide receiver who has essentially served in something of a player-coach role for at least a few years now and has been a mentor to the team’s young players at the position over that time.
He was that for Markus Wheaton and Sammie Coates, Martavis Bryant and frankly, even Antonio Brown himself. Now he has Smith-Schuster and James Washington under his watchful eye. Smith-Schuster in particular as he ascends in prominence both on and off the field. And he had a message for the young man.
“Don’t be content. Always think you can get better”, he said, according to Jeremy Fowler. “You’re only in your second year. There’s so much more he needs to learn. He needs to continue to be a student of the game. He has the ability to make plays when the ball comes his way. Are you going to take those next leaps to run better routes, to get to your spots, know your ins and outs of the whole design of the play so we can put you in different positions?”
Smith-Schuster leads the team in receptions and yardage so far this seasons with 42 catches for 561 yards, though he is sitting on two touchdowns after spoiling a couple of chances over the course of the season.
He has done the vast majority of his dirty work out of the slot, not only consistently lining up inside as his primary spot but also seeing his production come there as well. Brown and Washinton—or Justin Hunter—tend to play outside.
“I want to know what it’s going to be like when he doesn’t get the ball”, Fowler quoted Heyward-Bey as saying of Smith-Schuster. “What if he becomes what AB is right now? Getting the double-teams, are you going to still run your routes hard and bring your same intensity? That’s what matters. And I think he’ll respond the right way”.
Time will tell for all of that, naturally. Not even Brown was Brown at this point in his career. He didn’t really begin to blossom until year four.