JuJu Smith-Schuster has been on top of the world since coming to USC. Playing for a powerhouse program, producing at a high level on the sunny West Coast. Getting drafted by Pittsburgh, lighting it up the way few rookie receivers have before and instantly becoming a fan favorite on and off the field. I’m not kidding when I say at training camp, no player – yes, that includes Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger – gets louder cheers than JuJu does. He has another fantastic sophomore season, just turning 22, still a kid who earns national praise.
Then Sunday happened. And it’s safe to assume his game-ending fumble was the lowest of the lows. Listen to him talk after the game, a quiet voice, few words, and you know that’s the case. The next day, he tweeted out a photo of him following the fumble, blaming himself for the loss. Of course, the loss wasn’t solely on him. It wasn’t solely on anyone. But that’s a play that will haunt him, especially if the Steelers miss out on the postseason.
Mike Tomlin was asked what Smith-Schuster can learn from his first real bout of adversity.
“Like you learn from successes,” Tomlin said Tuesday. “I think we’re all products of experience…in JuJu’s case, he’s a young guy who is a significant component of our attack. A guy that we depend on to deliver winning, quality performance.”
Before the fumble, he was enjoying another strong game. There weren’t the splashy plays Brown was making but he was Roethlisberger’s go-to guy when the play broke down. He finished the day with 11 catches for 115 yards and is still narrowly edging Brown out for the season in receptions and yards.
Tomlin said he appreciated Smith-Schuster taking responsibility for the miscue.
“I appreciate the fact that he’s an accountability guy. That he accepts responsibility. I’m sure moving forward he’s going to have plenty of opportunities to be the significant reason why we’re successful. He’s been that. It wasn’t on Sunday. It’s something to be learned individually and collectively from those things.”
He concluded by saying accepting that it happened, embracing the mistake instead of hiding from it, is the best way to utilize it “for good” and move forward.
Though this is the biggest error he’s made of his young career, he has shown remarkable mental toughness. You’ll see him drop a pass early in a game, on a third down even, but bounce back with a huge reception sometime later in the game. He had to fight through training camp and preseason injuries his rookie year and it didn’t feel like he missed a beat. So odds are, he’ll bounce back. And at some point in his career, I like his chances of making the singular play that gets the Steelers into the playoffs.