Bringing back a series I had a lot of fun exploring the last several offseasons. Every player wants to improve, to elevate his game in all areas from one season to the next. Understanding that, we’re going to isolate just one area, one faction of a player’s game. The biggest area for improvement.
JuJu Smith-Schuster – Turn Into The Leader Of The Group
There’s still plenty of room in JuJu Smith-Schuster’s game to improve on, despite the resounding success he’s had the first two years of his NFL career. He’ll continue to work on the outside though ideally, still plays the majority of his reps in the slot, where he still functions best.
But for him, I want to go beyond the field. I want to look at him as a teammate, a presence in the that locker room. Those first two guys, he was barely-had-a-credit-rating JuJu. He was the young buck, in a room with Richard Mann (his first year) and for both, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Antonio Brown. The pecking order was clear. DHB was a leader, the guy players went to if they needed help in breaking down a concept or watching tape. Brown was the dude you watched work, the reason why you caught an extra 75 passes on the JUGS machine even though it’s 90 degrees in Latrobe and your fingers are numb.
Now, AB is in a different timezone and it doesn’t appear DHB is coming back. That’s losing a lot of “presence” in that locker room. And JuJu’s gotta fill both shoes.
Sure, Donte Moncrief is technically one the oldest and most tenured player in the room. And he could have a leadership role too. But he’s also the new guy. It’s hard to lead when you’re asking where the bathrooms are. Eli Rogers is the oldest right now but his roster spot isn’t even guaranteed. Again, hard to lead in that position.
So Smith-Schuster has to toe the line between being himself, that is to say a fun-loving, source of levity in the locker room, with the serious nature of becoming the leader. Comfortable in putting that extra weight on his shoulders, aware that all his actions are under the microscope by teammates, and setting the right path for guys like James Washington and whoever they draft in April. It’s about being self-aware of who you are, what you do, and how those choices are seen by everyone else. That’s everything from your practice habits, how you take care of your body, and how you maintain your professionalism off the field.
I’m not asking JuJu to become a different person in his personality. Be fun. Crack jokes with teammates. Walk his dog Boujee around for a Youtube video. It’s not about removing anything from his plate. It’s about adding more to his plate and being able to handle it.
Like it or not, he’s a leader of that room now. A spot he’s probably never been in before, always the young face in that USC locker room, leaving prior to his senior season, and obviously not one he’s encountered as a pro. Can he be that guy? Maybe, maybe not. Either he has it or he doesn’t and soon enough, that’s gonna be revealed. But for the sake of that room, and Kevin Colbert’s public decree for additional leaders on offense, let’s hope he is.