of the past couple of weeks, and understandably so as the 22-year-old has recorded 100-yard games in back-to-back weeks. He just became the first player not named Antonio Brown to record a 1000-yard season for the Pittsburgh Steelers since 2011.
The most notable development in that span of time is the fact that the Steelers have begun using him more on the outside again as opposed to in the slot over the course of the past two games, or more accurately the past five quarters.
Said offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner of Smith-Schuster, “he has been reliable, and since he’s been here, [he’s been] durable and played the game above the neck if you will. He’s very intelligent, he sees things in-game, has a lot of really interesting comments between series about what he feels and what he sees”.
That’s not normally what you would expect from a second-year player, let alone a player who only just recently turned 22 years old. But Smith-Schuster has been mature beyond his years—at least in terms of his craft—since he was drafted.
“He’s been able to take advantage of situations quite honestly”, Fichtner said. “When you’re going to rotate coverage to Antonio and a lot of people have to do that, somebody better make those plays outside of them”.
He compared what Smith-Schuster is doing with the coverage Brown gets to what Hines Ward was able to do for Santonio Holmes and then for Nate Washington early in Fichtner’s tenure with the team. Mike Wallace started off his career that was as well, and then Brown fed off of the attention Wallace got.
It’s an easy reaction to want to say that the second-year receiver has performed beyond expectations, but that is not how the Steelers look at it. “We anticipate all that”, Fichtner said of Smith-Schuster’s performance to date. “I wouldn’t say we wouldn’t. We expect that out of everyone that we drafted. I know that for sure. What was Antonio? A sixth-round pick? Is he a one or is he a two or is he a three? I don’t know what all that means, but I know that anybody we’ve had we expect to be like, I guess a one”.
The next couple of years could be interesting with Brown and Smith-Schuster on the team together. As the latter continues to gain more attention, that should only open things up even further for Brown. Both of them are playing at a Pro Bowl level, and it’s rare for a team to have two at the same time.